When Russia attacked Ukraine on Feb. 24, Iryna Trokhym and her colleagues were holding a three-day training in Lviv for women’s rights organizations from across the country’s western regions. Sixteen participants had just arrived in Lviv when the shelling began.
Trokhym is a project manager with the women’s rights organization Centre Women’s Perspectives. Founded in 1998, the organization works to build equal rights for women in all areas of life. The organization is a key partner in the Women of Ukraine: Heard, Capable, Resilient project. Led by Pact and funded by Global Affairs Canada, Women of Ukraine has been working since 2019 to increase women’s rights and gender equality in Ukraine by strengthening the capacity of local women's organizations. Through Women of Ukraine, Pact has provided funding and capacity development support to Centre Women’s Perspectives, a “hub” partner that then passes that support down to less established women’s right organizations across the west. The goal is to effectively build women’s rights from the community level up. Pact also leads the Global Affairs Canada-funded WINGS project in Ukraine, which works to build women’s economic security by enabling their success as employees and entrepreneurs.
When Russia’s full-scale invasion began, though, everything changed.
“Serving IDPs (internally displaced people) became an immediate need,” Trokhym says. “So we responded.”
Of the 16 organizational leaders who’d traveled to Lviv for the training, most decided to stay put. With support from Centre Women’s Perspectives, they began working together to figure out how to respond to the needs of their communities and IDPs amid war.
Across the country, with Pact’s support, other Women of Ukraine and WINGS partners are doing the same. Two days after the invasion began, Pact’s team in Ukraine gathered local partners for a call, urging them to replan their work to provide humanitarian assistance if they felt they could. Pact coordinated with Global Affairs Canada to quickly reallocate funding for humanitarian needs, and Pact is continuing to adapt to serve internally displaced women and children and women serving in the army. Pact’s partners are helping to provide shelter, food, medical services, psychosocial support and more. So far, Pact and our partners have assisted more than 17,000 women and their family members.
More than 7 million Ukrainians are estimated to have been internally displaced since late February, with another 6 million fleeing the country as refugees.
“Since Russia started its unprovoked and unjustified full-scale invasion of Ukraine, Pact’s team hasn’t stopped working for a day,” says Pact’s Ukraine country director, Alyona Gerasimova. “We’re more dedicated than ever to the women, families and local organizations we serve – we’ve just changed how we are supporting them because needs have changed so drastically. Our donor, Global Affairs Canada, responded very quickly to the humanitarian crisis and supported us as we pivoted from development work to a much-needed humanitarian response.”
For its part, Centre Women’s Perspectives has provided assistance for hundreds of IDPs. They created a shelter for women and children in Lviv, working with local business owners to repurpose office space as temporary housing. The shelter is located near Lviv’s rail station, offering women and children a convenient place to stay during stopovers before continuing on abroad. The organization’s staff and volunteers meet IDPs at the station and help them to the shelter, where they can eat, bathe and recover. In addition to medical services, the shelter offers psychological support and art therapy for children. Those who want to stay in Ukraine are offered longer-term housing. Those wishing to leave the country are supported with transfers to do so and, when possible, accommodations abroad.
With support from Pact, Centre Women’s Perspectives has also been able to provide hygiene items, bedclothes, dishes and medicine. The organization’s lawyer is gathering documentation for an international tribunal on Russian war crimes, and the centre has worked with international journalists covering the war. The centre has just started working on programming to help displaced women gain economic opportunities.
Critically, the organization also continues to support its partner women’s rights organizations. They have resumed regular meetings, with the centre providing advice, mentorship and funding as the partners have established shelters and aid centers of their own across the west.
“Some of the organizations struggled at first,” Trokhym says. “But all together we figured out how to efficiently help communities. During our weekly meetings we continue to consult with the organizations, because not all of them have experience responding to such challenges. They also help each other and share best practice. We also try to take care of the organizations themselves, offering advice to prevent burnout.”
Trokhym acknowledges how difficult the past few months have been, but seeing communities come together to help each other in every way needed has kept her going.
“From the first days of the full-scale war, everyone has been involved.”
Gerasimova agrees: “The networks that we built before the war have allowed us to work together to effectively help our fellow Ukrainians when they needed it most.”
As United Nations agencies and other humanitarian organizations step in to respond to the crisis, Pact’s programs will shift back toward development with a focus on recovery and peacebuilding.
“We will continue to adapt to meet the needs of Ukrainian women and families to the very best of our ability,” Gerasimova says.