Across Europe, HIAS responds to the many needs of Ukrainian refugees

R2P staff offer information and legal consultation to refugees from Ukraine at the Shegini-Meolica border crossing on the Ukraine-Poland border, March 31, 2022. (AG for HIAS)

Marianna and her 84-year-old father had gone to the refugee registration office in Lviv, Ukraine, two weeks after fleeing their home in Kharkiv oblast. HIAS partner staff Right to protection (R2P), a Ukrainian refugee aid organization, were in the office to help them.

“I want my house back,” Marianna said. “I want my friends. I want my life back.

Many are unlikely to return to the Kharkiv region anytime soon, as large swathes of Ukraine’s second-largest city have been destroyed by heavy fighting in recent weeks. But HIAS is responding to the immediate needs of internally displaced people in Ukraine and refugees in countries bordering Poland, Romania, Slovakia and Moldova where more than four million fled. And in Western Europe, HIAS offers its expertise to organize and educate communities to help provide longer-term support.

Almost at the same time Marianna was being assisted in Lviv, another Ukrainian refugee was in Paris at a HIAS training session to discuss how European Jewish communities can help. For him, there was no looking back, only looking ahead.

“Despite what is happening…we have to think about the future,” said Eduard Dolinsky, director of the Ukrainian Jewish Committee, who spoke at the event. “How are we going to get back to normal life? How are we going to restore our Jewish life?

The training, which brought together Jewish communities from across Europe to discuss private sponsorship and resettlement, is another way HIAS is helping host countries welcome refugees and enable them to build new life. the welcome circle model, which is used to help resettle Afghans in the United States, can be adapted and implemented by different local European communities to welcome Ukrainian newcomers.

Katya Moroz, a former R2P employee who now works as a consultant for HIAS in Warsaw, helped coordinate the Ukrainian regional response with NGOs and local partners in the region. HIAS emergency response staff also traveled to Poland and HIAS is hiring technical staff to focus on child protection and mental health support.

Moroz, who lived in Kyiv before the war started, has visited reception centers and is writing a rapid needs assessment report. Once the needs for food, shelter and medical care are met, she thinks the best approach is to ask people what they need.

“It takes a bit of time to find out what people really need, rather than imposing preconceived structures on them,” she said. “So that’s what we do.”

Moroz has found from his own experience that obtaining prescription drugs can be extremely difficult for displaced people. After speaking with doctors, pharmacists and refugees, she says she will report the issue to the Polish Ministry of Health.

The dispute led to a new partnership for HIAS. CADENA, a Jewish-Mexican NGO with extensive experience in emergency humanitarian aid, runs several HIAS-funded projects in Poland. Its work includes supplying supplies at the Medyka border post where refugees sometimes wait up to 48 hours to cross, and organizing specialized activities and care for children and families at the Korczowa refugee centre. HIAS is also working with Airbnb to provide emergency housing for refugees in Poland.

HIAS Europe has provided financial assistance to Jewish communities in Poland, Moldova and Romania and is working to recruit staff in Moldova, Hungary and Romania to help people resettle in Western Europe. Ilan Cohn, Director of HIAS Europe, emphasized that HIAS’ approach in Europe will be to work with Jewish communities and Jewish social services to support refugees, which is working well in Poland. “This network of Jewish communities has proven to be very powerful,” he said. “They mobilized very quickly.”

HIAS advises the Polish Jewish community on how to develop sustainable interventions. Rabbi Michael Schudrich, the Chief Rabbi of Poland, asked HIAS for technical support, as his Jewish community lacks the expertise of a professional humanitarian agency. As for what Americans can do right now to help, the rabbi says writing a check is the way to do the most good.

“We have kosher food, we have clothes,” Schudrich said. “If people send money, we can get things. You have to be efficient. »

In Ukraine itself, HIAS continues to support R2P which operates a hotline 15 hours a day, seven days a week to provide information on services, evacuation and refugee status. R2P is distributing food and supplies and also providing mental health support where they can. HIAS funding was used to hire additional mental health professionals and send an in-country coordinator to further support R2P and assist HIAS programs in-country and at the border.

HIAS continues to work with a number of local partners in different countries, including Foundation Our Choice, a Polish NGO established by Ukrainians in 2009, which provides housing and money to rent through the HIAS-Airbnb partnership; and VOICE, which supports women’s rights and women-led organizations in emergencies, and works in Moldova, Slovakia and Poland.

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