Before the war in the Donbas region of eastern Ukraine, Nikolay ran a decorative plant nursery near the town of Stanitsa Luhanska. In addition to selling plants in Luhansk city, the business was an education center for landscape design students from nearby Taras Shevchenko University. Nikolay even arranged housing for 60 students to get hands-on experience at the nursery.
But last summer, the conflict in Ukraine changed Nikolay’s landscape forever. The hotly-contested front line between the non-government forces and the government forces ran straight through his nursery. Nikolay quickly evacuated his family and started to move equipment and plant material from the family business to a safe location.
During his last attempt to reach the nursery, a shell loaded with explosives hit his car, killing his mother-in-law and badly burning his legs. Nikolay dragged himself 3 kilometers through the forest to Stanitsa Luhanska, where he was hospitalized.
Ukraine: A forgotten crisis
The ongoing conflict in Ukraine has triggered a massive humanitarian crisis. More than 1.4 million have been forced to leave their homes and 5 million are in need of help meeting their most basic needs: food, water, shelter. The majority of displaced families have lost their incomes.
To help those displaced within Ukraine, Mercy Corps has distributed cash and is providing small-business development grants and business-planning training. The intent is to help people forced from their homes and communities earn some income and support themselves and their families.
We are also repairing homes that have been damaged by the conflict.
In the non-government controlled areas of Ukraine, where supplies have been cut off and basic public services such as water and electricity have been damaged or interrupted, Mercy Corps is delivering food parcels, repairing essential shelter and water systems, and providing water and sanitation services to areas severely damaged by the fighting.
Although the conflict in east Ukraine remains unresolved, there’s been a significant reduction of violence since the September 1 signing of a second ceasefire. As winter draws in, Mercy Corps is working hard to help many of those who are still displaced move forward in their new realities. We’re also working to help those who are choosing to return home and finding their houses and livelihoods destroyed.
And as the cold and bitter winter draws in, Mercy Corps is making sure that people, whether in the government or non-government controlled areas of east Ukraine, have the supplies they need to make it through.
Rebuilding lives after attack
When Nikolay’s wife Svetlana finally learned where her husband was, she came to the hospital in Stanitsa. The doctors were keeping Nikolay alive, but the hospital had no power. She managed to rent a car and get to a hospital in Kharkiv, where most of his toes were amputated. He had eight skin grafts to repair his skin burns.
The family relocated to Starobilsk, about 75 miles away from their home, with no job and little money to survive.
Through a program organized by Mercy Corps, Nikolay and his family have received a small business grant to start a new nursery in Starobilsk with plant materials they were able to transplant. A local businessman has given them a patch of land. They hope to set up four new greenhouses.
Nikolay and Svetlana have also received cash to buy needed groceries.
Today they live with their daughter in a small, sparsely equipped apartment – a far cry from the spacious country home in Luhansk, but they have not lost hope.
“When we were trying to evacuate some part of our business sometimes the task got so overwhelming I’d feel my strength start to drift away,” Nikolay said. “We worked so many years on it! But once I got down to work again I understood that my life’s not over. We need to keep on living.”
Healing lives with homes
The war in Ukraine has damaged thousands of homes on the frontlines of the conflict. That’s why Mercy Corps identified home repair as one of its priorities when it opened the Ukraine country program in 2015.
Our experts worked closely with local administrators on both sides of the frontlines to identify where help could be directed to the greatest effect. Rather than trying to fully restore a small number of homes, Mercy Corps strives to provide each family with one warm, dry room suitable for winter habitation.
In Popasna, Mercy Corps is helping restore a home for Elena and Maryan, their two children and adopted niece.
During the artillery duel between government and non-government forces, Popasna came under heavy fire, and Elena and Maryan took the children to a safer town deeper in government-controlled territory. Her parents, however, refused to leave, and just two days later, both were killed and the home severely damaged by a direct artillery hit.
Mercy Corps experts traveled to Popasna and assessed the damaged home with the city mayor. Today, repairs are underway, with Mercy Corps providing roofing materials and windows, and Ukrainian volunteers from an Evangelical church group providing other materials and labor.
Elena said repairing the home has been for restoring the family’s hope. “In one day, the kids lost Grandma and Grandpa and the house. Suddenly they’re just gone. So you can’t imagine what it’s been like for them to see the house going back up. They’re children, they believe in miracles, like in a fairy tale.”
Her husband, Maryan, adds, “So much anger and hatred built up in this war. But when you busy your hands with work on the house, you can feel the anger dissipating, losing its edge.”
“Yes,” says Elena, gesturing at the walls and roof, “For me, this is already happiness! Just let there be peace so we can enjoy it!”