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Winter is near: How will IDPs fare in the west of Ukraine?

Approximately half a million Ukrainians are expected to move from one part of the country to another at the beginning of the heating season. The central government has tasked the regional administrations not only with providing warm and comfortable housing for every internally displaced person but also with creating new reserve housing options.

October 14, 2022 - Ivanna Rudishyn - Articles and Commentary

Lviv railway station in March 2022. Photo: Ruslan Lytvyn / Shutterstock

According to the latest estimates of the International Organization for Migration (report as of August 23rd), 6.97 million Ukrainians have become internally displaced persons (IDPs). In August alone, according to the Ministry of Reintegration, about 70,000 Ukrainians were evacuated from the temporarily occupied territories. As the winter draws near, people from the temporarily occupied territories will continue to move en masse to the Ukraine-controlled territory.

Lviv Oblast is among the five regions of the western macro-region with the largest number of IDPs. However, other western oblasts also host a large number of displaced people. Each of them continues to provide shelter to people who need it because of the war.

The situation in this respect was somewhat complicated by the start of the school year. A significant number of the displaced people who lived in the school dormitories had to move out before classes started. In July, the government stressed that one could not evict displaced people without providing them with alternative housing.

“People who had to temporarily settle in educational institutions should be provided with alternative housing – fit to live in, warm and in good shape – before the beginning of the school year. It is unacceptable to evict them without meeting this condition,” Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk said.

School has already started, and winter is ahead. This report looks at how and where the IDPs who have moved to Volyn, Rivne, and Lviv oblasts will spend their winter.

Volyn

As of September 9th, a total of 72,978 displaced people were received in Volyn. Currently, 59,896 people have IDP status. This amounts to 42,238 families with 18,298 children. According to the Volyn Oblast military administration (OMA), 90 per cent of these people settled in the private sector and only 10 per cent found shelter in the municipally- and government-managed facilities. The regional authorities assure that from the start people were placed into accommodations suitable to spend the winter in proper conditions.

Nevertheless, Volyn, like other regions, faced the problem of resettling IDPs who lived in the school dormitories before the start of the school year. In total, approximately 2,000 displaced persons were accommodated in this kind of facility in Volyn. 746 people needed to be resettled due to the start of the school year. As of the beginning of September, more than 500 were resettled. As the OMA press service said, most people found private housing independently. Some people were resettled with the help of territorial communities while another part still lives in the dormitories and is looking for ways out of the situation.

The Volyn administration officials add that not all housing options which the local government bodies were able to offer as an alternative are suitable for living, especially in winter. The oblast military administration proposed an alternative to the ministry of reintegration. It can arrange to house the displaced persons in the Volyn regional centre for the training, retraining and advanced training of agricultural workers (located in the village of Rokini, near Lutsk). For this, maintenance will have to be done on the building, so the regional authorities hope to get funding from the central budget. About 100 displaced people could be accommodated there. The remaining accommodations, they assure, could be arranged by the regional authorities on their own.

The regional educational institution that accepted the largest number of IDPs is the Lutsk Higher Vocational College. As of August 8th, there are 95 IDPs in this dormitory, including 20 children. Since the beginning of the full-scale war, a total of 334 people moved here, but some have already returned home, gone abroad or found another place to live.

The dormitory can accommodate a total of 170 people. Currently, there are 74 student occupants.

The administration assures that those who did not have a roof over their heads were not evicted and there is no intention to do so until people find another shelter.

“We do not evict anyone and we will not. Some of the people who have left wanted to move because many have large families, and it is more comfortable for them to rent separate housing. Despite the fact that our freshmen have moved in, the displaced people continue to live in the dormitory. We are waiting for an order from the Oblast military administration on relocation. We have the same comfortable conditions as before. Charitable organizations help improve living conditions. In addition, foodstuffs are often delivered. For example, bread is delivered every other day,” says Iryna Svirska, deputy director in charge of educational work.

There have been no cases of students being refused accommodation in a dormitory. Education is mixed (some of it is via an online format), so only part of the students need accommodation. In order to separate school students from the forced migrants, these groups were placed in separate sections.

“We are grateful to the school administration and to the Volyn OMA. They gave us shelter and created incredible conditions. We understood that the school year would soon begin, so we started looking for a place to live, but we have three cats, so we are turned down everywhere. In addition, I have a disability. I need to buy very expensive pills. So I spend part of the money that comes from the government on pills. So far, we are staying here. As soon as an opportunity arises, we will return home,” explains Valeriya Kovalenko, a 59-year-old migrant from Kharkiv (Saltovka district).

Lyudmila Gazizade and her husband lived in Horlivka. They moved to Kramatorsk in 2014 and rented a place there until the start of the full-scale war. Then they were forced to flee from the war further west and came to Lutsk. “We have nowhere to come back to. And we do not have enough money to rent an apartment in Lutsk. We even got used to the dormitory, we became like one family. True, we were asked to move to the ninth floor so that the students could move in. But I can’t do that, because, you know, I’m not the right age, my legs hurt every time I go up,” says the 61-year-old woman.

Despite the fact that there are issues related to the urgent search for housing for some of the IDPs, Volyn continues to reserve places for those who may come in case of an urgent or mandatory evacuation. On September 9th, the Volyn Regional administration reported that up to 5,000 more displaced people could be accommodated in the region. This relates to the private sector, hotels, communal institutions, schools that are currently not teaching, hostels, etc. Eight thousand places for those who may have to resettle are also being prepared. Most of them are in communities far from the oblast centre.

One possible option for additional accommodation to resettle IDPs is the Kivertsi community, where a settlement is being built for internally displaced persons. The construction is known to take place thanks to the cooperation of the Volyn Oblast Administration, the Office of the President, the Kivertsi City Council, Swedish patrons and local volunteers. When the construction of the additional buildings is completed, they will be able to accommodate approximately 300 more people here. Regarding the IDP housing issue, the Volyn Oblast Military Administration sums up: there is no specific and single solution. They work with everyone who is ready to help. They are convinced, however, that none of those who came to Volyn, fleeing from hostilities, will spend the winter without a roof over their heads.

Rivne Oblast

As of the beginning of September, more than 49,000 displaced people remained in the Rivne Oblast as permanent residents. Just like in other Oblasts, to a greater extent, they live in private sector housing. The Rivne OMA officials convince journalists that they are confident that every IDP will be provided with a warm shelter during the winter period. Moreover, they assure they are ready to accommodate about 24,000 additional people.

“These people will be settled in places that already have heating or are in need of maintenance on the heating systems or other means of heating. The regional officials work with international donors who are ready to help with maintenance and heating,” the press service of the Rivne Oblast responded.

They state that if necessary, IDPs will be accommodated in understaffed schools, medical institutions that are not currently providing medical care, social institutions and the private sector.

Rivne OMA, like Volyn, notes that there is no single mechanism to solve the housing issue, however they combine the efforts of various parties. For more effective co-operation between philanthropists, communities and the authorities, a dashboard (register) will be launched. It will record all the community needs related to the settlement of IDPs. Philanthropists will see these needs and decide whom and how much they can help.

Vitaliy Koval, the head of the Rivne OMA, notes that in the oblast building, owners often provide free shelter to people fleeing the war on their own initiative. As an example, he cites a recreation centre in the Dubny district. Since the beginning of the full-scale war, 200 people have found shelter here. Currently, 48 people live in the centre, mostly from Donetsk and Luhansk Oblasts. Previously, the building in the Dubny district community was abandoned. An investor put in funds to open a recreation centre for children. Once the war started, he began to provide free housing to displaced persons.

Lviv: focus on creating new space for long-term residence

As of the beginning of September, there are approximately 250,000 officially registered IDPs in the Lviv Oblast. Local government bodies and a polling group “Fama” conducted research in May and estimated that every fourth or fifth displaced person in Lviv Oblast lost their home and has nowhere to go back to. Up to 50,000 displaced people will need to be provided with housing for the long term here in the Lviv Oblast. In addition, up to 100,000 displaced persons are expected to arrive in the Lviv region in winter.

The deputy head of the oblast economic policy department, Vadym Tabakera, said that the Lviv Oblast decided to increase the number of housing facilities in order to provide IDPs with long-term residence opportunities. For this purpose, three policy directions have been developed in the region: housing to be purchased by IDPs, land plots and new residential construction projects, renovation and repurposing of social institutions for IDP needs.

Tabakera added that there are already 86 multi-apartment buildings in Lviv Oblast where 1,858 apartments can be bought. This housing was offered by construction companies and it meets the buyout requirements set by the government. Such apartments could be provided to internally displaced persons and their family members for temporary use for up to one year.

“The person will have the title [for the apartment] for one year. But if he or she has nowhere to go, the status is unchanged – the title is automatically extended for the next year. And even after the war, people who lost their homes can petition for the privatisation of these homes. Such housing is not privately owned, they are either communal or government property. The local self-government body can transfer the apartment ownership to the IDP, or, if the person leaves, the apartment can be used by war veterans, etc.,” Tabakera explained.

However, the official admits, the apartment purchasing mechanism for IDPs currently is not working. After all, the state provided the instrument but did not provide funding. At the same time, only capital repairs of IDP housing can be financed with regional money, not new construction or purchase.

The next direction is housing construction. It is primarily about modular settlements and other rapid construction technologies. Vadym Tabakera is convinced: it allows you to build decent housing, adapted to the Lviv Oblast climate, in a short period of time, up to three months.
As of the beginning of September, there are six such facilities in the Lviv Oblast. They can accommodate up to 2,000 people, but this, the official admits, is “a drop in the ocean”.

Therefore, the Lviv Oblast officials say that the most effective of the three announced policies to rapidly increase the amount of housing is the renovation of communal and state-owned facilities. Their database was compiled in the region and there are currently 245 objects.

“If the region had 2.2 billion hryvnias [around 60 million US dollars], we could create space to accommodate up to 20,000 people by means of capital repairs, re-planning and repurposing of social institutions for housing. Or repairing dormitories that have already been built as housing. So far, we have been able to allocate 157 million hryvnias from the regional budget. A regional programme for the implementation of priority infrastructure projects was adopted and 25 objects were included in it (construction work has already been completed on eight of them). This will make it possible to create new additional comfortable living quarters for 2,700 people by the end of the year.

We also offer this method to donors. The Red Cross, the United Nations, etc. are now receiving a mandate for reconstruction, that is, the formation of housing funds for displaced persons. We provide them with information about the projects from the database we have created, we take them on tours of those objects, they estimate the cost of restoration, compare the costs of one additional living space created and make decisions about restoration. The number of donor organisations that can afford to restore these facilities on their own is small. Some ask to do it in partnership with regional authorities. There are also cases when five donors and other funding sources join forces to restore one facility, for example, a nine-story dormitory. Because it requires significant capital investments,” Tabakera explained.

He also noted that if the regional authorities had funding for all three policy areas described above, they would be able to create additional long-term, comfortable residence spaces for 30,000-50,000 IDPs.

“In the event of a total, forced evacuation from the eastern regions of Ukraine, Lviv Oblast will again quickly deploy temporary shelters in sufficient numbers, as we did at the beginning of the full-scale invasion. In this case, it is about providing temporary residence in a crisis situation. And we will deal with it if necessary. But we must remember that every fifth IDP will have nowhere to go back to. That’s why we have to think about solving the housing issue more comprehensively.”

As for the issue of resettling IDPs from educational institutions due to the beginning of the school year, it is not considered acute in Lviv Oblast. Usually, OMA assures, logistics and local management within a specific district or community allowed to resolve these issues.

“The department of education says that currently there are no problems with this in the region. They have already started the school year in 95 per cent of educational institutions (prepared bomb shelters, resettled IDPs, etc.). Some of the people who lived in these dormitories settled in the private sector, some settled in a modular town but in any case, no one was kicked out into the street,” Tabakera said. The official summed up: the Lviv Oblast is preparing to spend the winter in a regular mode without significant disruptions.

Compensation will be increased for people who sheltered IDPs in the private sector

The lion’s share of IDPs settled in the private sector rather than in the communal and government-owned institutions, which were discussed above. On September 6th, the government, with the assistance of the reintegration ministry, signed an updated memorandum with the Red Cross Society of Ukraine. The initiative will increase funding to compensate people who provided temporary housing to internally displaced persons within the framework of the “Shelter” programme. Since October 1st, apartment and home owners who accommodated IDPs will receive 900 hryvnias (25 US dollars) instead of 450 hryvnias for each IDP per month.

Transcarpathia demonstrates a distinct case for supporting the private sector, where IDPs will spend the winter. This year, on the eve of winter, financial assistance from the regional budget will be paid to people who sheltered displaced persons free of charge. An order to this effect was signed by the OMA Chairman Viktor Mykyta.

A one-time payment of 4,000 hryvnias (around 110 US dollars) will be provided for housing two or more internally displaced persons for a period of at least 30 calendar days in September or October 2022. These funds will partially offset the costs of housing and utilities and other household needs.

According to Mykyta, in order to receive assistance, Transcarpathia residents need to file an application with the executive body of the territorial community where the housing is located.

This report is also available in Ukrainian here

Ivanna Rudishyn is a Ukrainian journalist with Volyn Post.

This article is published in the framework of the “Bohdan Osadchuk Media Platform for Journalists from Ukraine” co-financed by the Polish-American Freedom Foundation as part of the RITA – “Region in Transition” Program implemented by the Education for Democracy Foundation and the Foundation for Polish-German Cooperation. 

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