An image showing destruction in the Ukraine city of Odessa due to the war. Credit: Focal Foto

Ukraine humanitarian crisis – two years on

It has now been almost 2 years since Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine on 24 February 2022.

In the subsequent six weeks, 25% of Ukraine’s population left their homes, triggering the world’s fastest-growing displacement and refugee crisis since World War II. Over 6 million refugees left Ukraine and another 3.6 million were internally displaced. The situation was dire, and millions of people needed humanitarian assistance.

Emergency appeals for funds were launched around the world. The Disasters Emergency Committee (DEC) has raised more than £420 million for its Ukraine Humanitarian Appeal to date, more than their previous six emergency appeals combined. This placed the UK public as the 5th largest funder of humanitarian response in Ukraine in late 2022.

As always in crises, the first to respond were local communities and the groups and organisations that represent them. However, when the international NGO and UN community arrived in Ukraine to provide vital humanitarian assistance, Ukrainian organisations felt somewhat side-lined. The cluster coordination mechanism was activated, meetings were largely held in English at the beginning, and 99% of funding was routed to international actors. Ukrainians asked: what about the years of global discussions about shifting power to local and national actors? What about the localisation commitments made in the Grand Bargain? If not now, when?

Two years on

With each passing month as the hope of a peaceful resolution in the immediate future reduces, it is becoming clear that it is at risk of becoming a protracted crisis. Humanitarian needs are constantly changing on the frontline, but elsewhere they reflect the cumulative impact of living in a country at war.

Secondary effects of the conflict are now surfacing with issues related to unemployment, human trafficking, homelessness, and mental health and psychosocial support needs. Local and national organisations are struggling to find funds to respond to these issues, and the security context continues to be a significant challenge and risk to operations and safety. As one of CAFOD’s partners in Ukraine says:

The situation in Kharkiv over the last month is one of terror. The shelling is not stopping, and already some of the broken windows Depaul has repaired in people’s houses have been destroyed again…with the way the news is going we see it will be a long road ahead. People don’t see how the war can end this year. Everyone understands it’s not very safe to stay here, but also that the services will stop if staff leave.

Dmytro Dmytrenko, Depaul Ukraine, Director of Programmes

Many local and national actors continue to feel frustrated at the slow pace of the transition to a truly locally led humanitarian response, and many still feel side-lined by what continues to be an internationally-led humanitarian response.

Looking toward the future

The long-term funding outlook of the international response also looks uncertain, and many years of recovery and reconstruction are ahead even once the war ends.

An international response which strengthens and complements what Ukrainian organisations are doing, therefore, is crucial.

It’s also important to have honest conversations with all stakeholders involved about the barriers that are preventing Ukrainians from taking the lead. However, there are some examples to be hopeful about:

  • An Humanitarian Localisation Baseline has established how far the humanitarian response in Ukraine is truly locally led. This will be the starting point for measuring progress.
  • A new (pooled) fund for local and national actors has been funded by DEC. It will be co-hosted by a Ukrainian organisation – the National Network for Local Philanthropy Development – and Start Network. This was the top recommendation from local and national actors who informed a study DEC commissioned in late 2022.
  • USAID funded a Ukrainian NGO directly, funding a national NGO for the first time in its history. This was informed by its new Localisation Policy.
  • An Alliance of Ukrainian CSOs has formed and is leading the development of a national localisation roadmap and the organisation of the second national Ukraine Aid Leadership Conference. These will help to advocate for, measure and report on progress towards localisation.

The Alliance of Ukrainian CSOs was created to unite around the idea of localisation, all the necessary actors, to act together, to go through this path in a consolidated manner, to sincerely talk about all the barriers and challenges, highlight all the benefits and create practical and effective tools that are based on the Ukrainian context, experience and on the best international practices. It is not just access to direct funding, but a desire to strengthen the role of civil society for effective humanitarian response, reconstruction of Ukraine.

Mila Leonova, Acting Director, Alliance of Ukrainian CSOs

What more can Bond members and donors be doing?

Investing in Ukrainian civil society is an area that those funding and implementing humanitarian response in Ukraine should not lose sight of.

FCDO should follow up on the FCDO Donor Dialogue on Localisation last year and dig deeper into how to promote accountability for the quality of partnerships of the agencies it funds in Ukraine and elsewhere.

International NGOs should measure and transparently share evidence demonstrating progress towards agreed priorities to deliver on quality partnerships and support for local leadership in Ukraine. This should include indicators relating to quality partnerships, predictable and multi-year funding, sharing overheads, following ethical recruitment practices, and other metrics outlined in Pathways to Localisation.

Investing now for an even stronger and resilient Ukrainian civil society is not only cost-effective, but also contributes to meeting commitments widely agreed almost 10 years ago in the Grand Bargain.