As the world grapples with displacement caused by the ongoing war in Ukraine, a lesser-known situation is unfolding within the country itself. By the end of 2022, 5.7 million refugees and asylum-seekers left Ukraine. Alongside the refugee crisis, a parallel crisis has amounted to 5.9 million internally displaced people within Ukraine. Among them, UNICEF reports that an alarming 2.5 million are children whose lives have been upended by the conflict.
While international headlines often spotlight Ukrainian refugees seeking safety in neighboring European countries, we cannot ignore the major role of Ukrainian towns and cities in providing immediate relief to internally displaced persons (IDPs). Dunaivtsi, a town of 15,000 residents and now 4,000 IDPs, is one example of a city serving an IDP population nearly ⅓ of its size. The Mayors Migration Council (MMC) supports cities like Dunaivtsi through the Global Cities Fund for Migrants and Refugees (GCF).
By directly funding cities to implement inclusive programs of their own design, the GCF builds precedents of fiscal feasibility in city governments that are often disregarded by donors with low-risk tolerance. The GCF is led by the MMC in partnership with C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group (C40 Cities), Metropolis, the UN Migration Agency (IOM), United Cities and Local Governments (UCLG), the United Nations Human Settlements Programme (UN-Habitat), and the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) and with support of the Bernard van Leer Foundation, the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation, the IKEA Foundation, Open Society Foundations, and the Robert Bosch Stiftung.
As a new recipient of the MMC’s Global Cities Fund for Migrants and Refugees, Dunaivtsi has a plan to respond to the needs of internally displaced children and families. Under the leadership of Mayor Velina Zaiats, Dunaivtsi will renovate an abandoned hospital to provide shelter and social services to dozens of internally displaced children and families fleeing the ongoing conflict in the region. An interview with key figures from Dunaivtsi underscores that the city has not only continued to meet their growing IDP population’s physical needs but has given them a sense of hope and agency.
As Dunaivsti launches its project and consults with IDP families, the city’s administration is dedicated to involving the shelter’s residents in the construction and maintenance of the premises. As winter approaches, the city plans to renovate the second floor of the hospital. While the first floor is already in use and has appropriate heating installed, there are even more people who need shelter this year. Dunaivtsi hopes to finalize these renovations in the fall before the weather becomes cold.
Renovations and improvements aren’t only contained to the inside of the shelter – the outside has also proved to be an opportunity for growth. Since this past spring, the city has been discussing the potential for IDPs to take charge of producing their own food. They’ve already allocated land, provided seeds, and begun poultry farming. Ultimately, the city hopes to expand on these efforts and offer the residents a greenhouse to continue gardening into the colder months.
In addition to fulfilling essential needs like shelter, there is also a focus on addressing the social and emotional needs of children. “On the issue of children, we have organized several excursions and explored the possibility of using the youth center,” said Mykola Helyardovych Ostrovsky, Head of the Department of Social Protection and Labor. “Our goal is integration between children from Dunaivtsi and the internally displaced children. We hope that the IDP children can attend school next year.”
City leaders also emphasized that the project will have positive impacts on the community for years to come, beyond the GCF grant timeframe. This follows a more general trend among city grantees, as more than 80 percent of GCF “graduates” have already used their grant as proof of concept to secure additional funding to continue or expand their projects.
Kadyuk Iryna Mykolaivna, Head of the Department of Economics, Investments, Communal Property and Agro-Industrial Development, stated, “Regardless of the circumstances, we are committed to ensuring that our facilities remain in use. After the war, the city plans to turn the space into a children’s camp or rehabilitation center for domestic and gender-based violence survivors.”
In the face of adversity, Dunaivtsi stands as a shining example of a community that refuses to let conflict define its future. Ostrovsky stated, “[The IDPs] have already made friendships with the local population. They’ve become our community.” With the support of the Global Cities Fund for Migrants and Refugees, Dunaivtsi is not only providing immediate relief to those displaced by the ongoing crisis but also laying the foundation for a brighter tomorrow for all its residents, both old and new.