UT went to Mariupol to see how internally-displaced citizens cope with the hardships of life
The city of Mariupol. The industrial heart of the Donetsk region, and one of the biggest seaports in Ukraine. Approximately 500,000 people live here, just about 20 kilometers from the contact line.
Echoes of war can often be heard in the eastern districts of the city. Aside from that, Mariupol lives a normal life nowadays, attracting tens of thousands of refugees from the occupied territories.
One in five residents here is internally displaced, a hundred thousand people in total. Vera and her family came to Mariupol from Shyrokyne village in 2014. Their home was destroyed in the fighting between Ukraine and the Russian-backed forces. The woman managed to overcome all the obstacles and even volunteered to help the others.
Vera, internally displaced person: "I registered at the employment center, for half a year I couldn't find a job. It was really rough for the displaced. I had to become a volunteer, help the rest. And the people of Mariupol, when it all started, average people showed their support, they would come to us, bring medicine, clothes, they would allow us to rent apartments, some would even do it for free. They really helped us."
A residential house damaged in shelling of the Donetsk region (UNIAN Photo)
Now Vera works at the city center for helping families and children, her daughter goes to local school. However, some people that come to Mariupol from the war-torn regions, still need help. According to the local officials, more than 3,000 refugees in the city can't find apartments to move into.
Many struggle to even get the social help from the government. Ukraine currently pays employable refugees about 20 dollars a month, the unemployable persons receive about twice as much.
Not nearly enough to survive, if there are no other sources of income. Even to get this money, people need to provide piles of documents, which takes weeks. And recently payments for many citizens have been suspended until they can prove they are still eligible for help.
Natalia, internally displaced person: "We applied for the social help once, but now our term is up and we need to do it again. But it is so difficult, convoluted, that I don't want to go through it ever again."
Natalia was invited to take part in an event, dedicated to the problems of the refugees. It was organized by the United Nations and Ukrainian authorities. Due to the progress achieved in supporting the IDPs, Mariupol was named a "City of Solidarity". The UN and Ukraine also signed a cooperation memorandum, aiming to solve the main problems highlighted by the refugees, like housing, unemployment, and medical treatment.
A woman walks in Kominternovo village after shelling, near Mariupol, Ukraine, 15 January 2016 (Getty Images)
Pablo Mateu, United Nations Refugee Agency representative in Ukraine says though, Ukraine must fulfill its part of the commitments. However, two years after the war began Ukrainian politicians still talk about how they weren't prepared to deal with it. Only a couple of months ago Kyiv introduced a ministry, responsible for the occupied territories and internally displaced persons. And it's up to this ministry to set things straight for the refugees. When it will happen is unclear, as Ukrainian officials often disagree on key issues.
Watch also Ukraine Today's Viewpoint with Oleksandr Pavlichenko, the Ukrainian Helsinki Human Rights Union Chairman: Long way for Ukraine to protect the rights of IDPs from Donbas and Crimea
Georgi Tuka, Deputy Minister for Temporarily Occupied Territories and Internally Displaced Persons: "The social policy ministry is conducting the verification of the social payments for the IDPs, many people can't get money until they undergo this verification. I don't think this decision will help at all. But since we can't change it, I proposed an option to fasten this process by attracting volunteers who will inspect the refugees. Sadly, the social policy ministry wasn't eager to accept my ideas, and I'm extremely skeptical regarding the outcome."
The Deputy Minister admits, there is a lot of work ahead. According to the latest statistics, the war forced more than 1,5 million people to leave their homes in occupied Donbas and Crimea. Some can take care of themselves, the lives of the others heavily depend on the help from the government.
Serhiy Oganesyan, specially for Ukraine Today