One year ago, the escalation of the war in Ukraine forced millions of people to leave their homes and find safety abroad.
The International Organization for Migration (IOM) has been providing crucial support to war-affected people both inside Ukraine, in neighbouring countries and across Europe. This includes the distribution of one-time cash payments for basic needs. The cash assistance programme seeks to empower people to meet their basic needs while also supporting local economies.
Over the past year, cash-based initiatives have become an essential service in the crisis response, helping thousands of people. Five families scattered across Europe and Ukraine share how this type of assistance helped them to get back on their feet after being displaced by the war:
Yulia is among the 73,000 Ukrainians who have fled to Lithuania. Together with her daughter and sister’s two children, she arrived in Vilnius in April last year. Her sister stayed behind to care for their mother. Her husband too.
“My husband is fighting for Ukraine, defending our country's independence while I am here,” she explains. When Yulia made it safely to Lithuania, she was alone with the children, had no place to stay, no job, and did not understand the language.
Through the cash assistance programme, the head of the family receives a one-time payment of EUR 147, and every other family member receives an additional EUR 73.5. More than EUR 80,000 were allocated between October and December last year.
Last August, Yulia welcomed her second child in Lithuania. “We needed this money very much and it helped a lot. We used it for the children’s needs.”
Oleksander and his mother Nina had hoped the war wouldn’t disrupt their lives too much. After 25 years of working at the post office in Kramatorsk, in the Donetsk Region, Nina was about to retire. When the train station in their hometown was bombed, war had arrived on their doorstep.
“We didn’t know what to do, where to go.” The mother-and-son pair took an evacuation train to Lviv, before finally crossing into Poland, made even more difficult by Oleksandr’s condition, Bechterew’s disease.
“We were now safe from the war, but we had to start thinking about how to get by,” Oleksander remarks. Upon arrival in Poland, IOM provided Oleksander and his mother with cash to cover their most urgent needs.
“With most of our basics covered for now, I can think of other things, like going to doctor’s appointments for my condition,” Oleksandr says – emphasizing just how critical it is to address the essential needs of people fleeing war.
Natalia and her family fled Ukraine to Hungary in September. “I am so grateful that I can be safe here with my five children and my husband,” she says.
IOM Hungary provided Natalia’s family with accommodation and cash-based vouchers.
“We regularly receive meal vouchers and shopping cards, so I can prepare meals for the children that they enjoy eating and remind them of the flavors of home.
Cash assistance is just as much a help to displaced people in Ukraine. Having left their homes and belongings behind in search of safety, their need for basics, food, clothes, or toys for their children, is immense.
In coordination with local authorities and other humanitarian actors, IOM has been giving cash-based assistance to the most vulnerable — families with two or more children, people with disabilities, the elderly and single parents.
One of them is Valentyna, 64. The widow, who worked in a local theatre in Zhytomyr, in northern Ukraine, found herself fleeing from her lifetime home towards the west seeking safety, when on the 12th day of the war, bombs fell on the buildings next to her house.
The former actress used her cash assistance to pay for medicines and treatment for her glaucoma. Without it, she would have had no means to cover her medical treatment.
“I find this cash helps better than other kinds of assistance because you know what you need most and your needs change.”
Svitlana has also found safe haven in Lithuania, where she is preparing for and anticipating the birth of her first child. “I am very happy to have received this money. I needed it to buy the essentials for my soon-to-be-born baby,” she says.
In Ukraine, Svitlana lived in Ugledar, Donetsk region. Her home, as well as those of her parents and grandparents, has been destroyed by incessant shelling. “We are in Lithuania for the time being, and it is very difficult to plan a return to Ukraine, as there is simply nowhere to go back to. Of course, it is my home, but the question of returning now sounds very difficult,” she explains.
Implementation of the cash-based initiative in Lithuania is made possible with financial support from the US State Department’s Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration (PRM). IOM in Lithuania has also cooperated with the Lithuanian Red Cross, which provided facilities for the meetings with those who benefitted from the assistance.
In Ukraine and neighbouring countries, thousands of people, including internally displaced persons, refugees, and host families, have reported great satisfaction with cash-based assistance, given its adaptability to be spent on items they deem as a priority. As the war continues into its second year, IOM will link humanitarian assistance with more sustainable solutions, including job support and social protection systems, to help meet evolving needs.