The challenges and our response
In 2014, conflict between armed groups and government forces in eastern Ukraine began to affect millions of people. By December 2021, violence on both sides of the 450-kilometre “line of contact” (LoC) had claimed the lives of more than 3,400 Ukrainian civilians, with more than 7,000 injured, according to estimates from the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR).
Now, since the Russian invasion, the number of deaths and casualties is much higher. Despite the danger, International Medical Corps is on the ground in Ukraine and the surrounding region, helping internally displaced persons (IDPs) and refugees affected by the war.
The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) reports that some 24 million Ukrainians—more than half of the county’s population—are in need of humanitarian assistance. The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) says that, since February 24, more than 7 million people have been internally displaced, and that more than 6 million have already fled Ukraine—including millions of children—meaning that more than 13 million people, or about one-third of the population, have fled their homes.
Residents in conflict-affected areas have experienced outages of electricity, water and heating, as well as restricted access to agricultural land—and the loss of potential income those restrictions have caused. Insecurity, deteriorating economic conditions and a damaged healthcare system have further compounded people’s suffering.
International Medical Corps is working both directly and in partnership with local organisations to increase access to medical supplies and services, mental health and psychosocial support (MHPSS), clean water and sanitation, and protection services for those displaced, as well as for those living in areas affected by war. We are working with the Ukraine Ministry of Health to help provide a wide variety of training to health staff and first responders, including providing critical infection prevention and control (IPC) and psychological first aid (PFA) training, and promoting proper hygiene among community members. Our long history in the country, our strong partnerships and our expertise in providing medical services and training in conflict zones enable our Ukraine team to adapt rapidly to changing conditions.
Working with the Ukrainian Ministry of Health and healthcare facilities throughout the country, we have delivered hundreds of tons of medical supplies and equipment—including medicines, reproductive health kits, emergency health kits, personal protective equipment (PPE) kits, essential health packs and non-communicable disease kit renewables and equipment—in an effort to ensure continuity of care in a country where attacks on healthcare facilities have been all too common. These supplies will enable these facilities to serve millions in the coming months.
As we set up bases throughout the country, we have been working with partners to deliver medical services through mobile medical units bringing healthcare personnel, including medical specialists, pharmacists and medicine, to villages in need. In addition, we are continuing to supply hygiene materials and rapid antigen tests, install handwashing stations and promote good hygiene practices to stop the spread of infectious diseases, including COVID-19, in areas where displaced people are crowded together.
Mental Health and Psychosocial Support (MHPSS)
International Medical Corps has a long history of working both directly and with local partner organisations in Ukraine to provide MHPSS services to those in need, with a focus on treating the unseen wounds of war.
Before the invasion, we implemented psychosocial support through mobile teams that reached villages along the LoC, and are continuing to provide MHPSS consultations in the region, through a variety of mobile and remote means. We have posted ads, in both Ukrainian and Russian, providing information on where to find mental health support and resources, reaching millions of people in Ukraine, Poland, Moldova, Romania and Slovakia.
We are providing training (including training-of-trainers) on psychological first aid (PFA) to first responders so they can help others, are working to integrate MHPSS services into the health system by providing training on basic psychosocial skills to healthcare workers, and are conducting individual emotional support and psychosocial support sessions where needed.
Gender-Based Violence (GBV and Protection Services
Women and girls face special risks during wartime, as conflict leads to displacement and vulnerability during a time when support networks are disrupted. From 2015 to 2020, International Medical Corps delivered gender-based violence (GBV) prevention and response programs in partnership with local organisations and communities, organising women’s and girls’ safe spaces, training caseworkers to provide individualised care for women and child survivors of violence, and mobilizing communities to reduce risks and prevent incidents of violence.
Now, we are coordinating efforts with government agencies, other NGOs and community organisations to ensure that women and girls inside Ukraine, as well as those crossing into neighbouring countries, have access to safe spaces, material support and focused response services for survivors of rape and other forms of gender-based violence. We also are working to ensure the safety of children and adolescents, who are particularly vulnerable during times of war, when the confusion and displacement caused by conflict increase the risks of exploitative relationships and trafficking.
Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH)
With significant damage to infrastructure in Ukraine, access to water remains a public health priority for those trapped in cities. International Medical Corps is working with the national WASH Cluster in Ukraine to identify key local municipal authorities for support as required and to quantify the scope of WASH interventions needed. To support this effort, International Medical Corps has been distributing thousands of hygiene kits, as well as infection prevention and control (IPC) environmental kits.
To support the needs of refugees in Moldova, International Medical Corps conducted a rapid needs assessment for refugee accommodation centres in border districts. In response to its findings, the WASH team provided hygiene and cleaning kits to the centres, and are helping with waste management and IPC measures, to protect the health of the refugees at the centres.