When a Russian missile struck a residential block in Lviv last month killing six people it hardly made the news in the UK. Such is the nature of this protracted crisis that we risk becoming almost immune to its horrors. With so many clients and partners in Ukraine and my own London based staff making regular visits, we know the situation remains as grave as ever.
Over 500 days since the full-scale invasion by Russian forces, Ukraine continues to dominate World Jewish Relief’s operational environment. Over 69% of our planned international expenditure this year will be in Ukraine whilst we dramatically scale up our employment and English language assistance for Ukrainians across the UK. Our life-saving humanitarian support to those on the frontlines will continue, and we are responding to specific crises such as flooding caused by the destruction of Kakhovka Dam, but we are shifting towards long-term efforts to promote recovery and quality of life for Ukrainians.
Much of our attention continues to focus on a diminished but vulnerable Jewish client group dispersed across the country. While many community members left Ukraine for Israel, Germany and beyond early in 2022, it was inevitable that older, less mobile individuals would be hesitant to leave, afraid of travel, uncertainty and upheaval. It is estimated that well over 30,000 elderly Jews remain in their homes and continue to rely on external support as do many more of a younger generation.
Our support into Ukraine shifts as needs evolve. For our elderly Jewish client group our priority remains medical, social and homecare assistance, though those nearer frontlines continue to receive an emergency package when access allows. Many of you will be familiar with our renowned Home Repairs programme that we launched seven years ago targeting the repair of over 7,500 dilapidated Jewish homes across eastern Europe.
This programme has partly shifted in Ukraine to cater for shell damaged homes ensuring that our clients will have at least one warm room ready for winter 2023/24.
We are allocating increasing resources to helping Ukrainians find work inside Ukraine. Fearful of creating over reliance on a humanitarian pipeline that is diminishing, we know from experience that earning a living, even in the midst of conflict, offers many advantages. This programme has hardly stopped since the war broke out and we are still achieving over 50% employment rates amongst participants despite a chronically challenging economic outlook, high inflation and a 26% national unemployment rate.
Yet we realise that alongside employment assistance, mental health support, especially to children, is critical. Our psycho-social programmes, utilising Israeli expertise, are crucially training children’s psychologists to address children’s trauma – this will, I fear, be a long journey.
Here in the UK, we are delighted that World Jewish Relief has been appointed by the UK Government to assist up to 10,000 Ukrainian refugees to improve their English and find work, building on our expertise working in Ukraine and providing employment support to refugees. This 12-month initiative plays to our strengths and further highlights our commitment to Ukrainians suffering the horrors of conflict wherever they may be.
I am immensely proud that World Jewish Relief continues to play such a leading, unique role with unparalleled access and knowledge of this context. Your ongoing support and interest in this critical part of our work makes this possible. Thankyou.
A Brief Overview of Our Impact
We are working through our partners to access hard-to-reach communities on the frontline, providing them with life-saving humanitarian aid. Over 70% of our total expenditure has been spent delivering food, water, and medicine to vulnerable Ukrainians including women, older people and people with disabilities who are disproportionately affected by the war.
How much we still need to raise
Needs in Ukraine remain overwhelmingly complex and multifaceted. We anticipate needing to raise at least £8.3 million over the next 12 months to meet Ukrainians’ urgent needs.
Whilst our humanitarian support to remote communities on the frontline continues thanks to our supporters and the Disaster Emergency Committee, who are helping us reach 5,000 people with food and hygiene kits, we are shifting towards long term recovery efforts, building on our ongoing work in the areas you will read about in this report.
Ukraine’s Invisible War
“We psychologists are fighting a war on an invisible front.” – Mariana, Ukrainian psychologist
Where once there was bird song, air raid sirens now punctuate the air twice a day on the subdued streets of Kyiv, the country’s capital. A hair-raising reminder of Ukraine’s existential threat. After 500 days of relentless bombardment, a winter without windows, mass unemployment and the explosion of Kakhovka Dam which caused devastating floods, it’s no wonder Ukrainians believe the most significant impact of the war has been on their mental health.
Even before the full-scale Russian invasion began, a staggering 1 in 3 Ukrainians suffered from mental health disorders due to historical Soviet-era trauma, Covid-19 and the 2014 Russian invasion of Crimea and war in the East. The current and ongoing war in Ukraine has only exacerbated this already high rate, and according to the World Health Organization, 10 million Ukrainians are now at risk of developing anxiety, depression, PTSD and other disorders.
But the burden of mental health is not shared equally. Some groups, including people with disabilities, children, military personnel and veterans, older people, healthcare workers and those displaced by the war, are significantly more vulnerable. Communities on the frontlines in southern and eastern Ukraine are also at greater risk, especially in towns and villages which have been under Russian occupation at some stage.
But whilst the need is high, there are several barriers in the way of Ukrainians accessing the support they desperately need: stigma, cost and lack of awareness. Many communities see mental health disorders as unimportant and older generations do not trust the psychiatric system which was used by the Soviets to suppress their opposition.
Recovering Mental Health
Through our partners we’re providing targeted psychological support to those in need, with a particular focus on school children and their parents. Through our network of psychologists, mentors and coaches, we have trained 151 healthcare professionals across Ukraine to provide free trauma-informed care. This support will reach over 7,550 people, helping remote communities and those on the frontlines to cope with the mental impacts of the Russian invasion.
“Thanks to a large team of organisers, coaches, mentors, who share their experience, we are returning mental health to those who work on the psychological front.” – Natalia Gryshchenko, Educational Psychologist
Mental health support is a vital component of many of our programmes from our livelihood development work to our humanitarian support, and it is an essential part of helping people provide for themselves once more.
Building Stronger Families
Supporting children and young people
18 months on from Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, children and families continue to endure unimaginable devastation and forced displacement. According to the Ministry of Education and Science in Ukraine, just 25% of schools nationwide have been able to offer full-time, in-person learning since September 2022. An estimated 1.5 million children are at risk of depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder and other mental health issues, with potential long-term effects and implications (UNICEF, February 2023).
Our Back to Childhood programmes aim to improve the well-being of these children and young people. It addresses the consequences of conflict-related trauma and ongoing psychological stress, as well as the years of lost learning which started during the Covid-19 pandemic and has negatively impacted social skills and education levels.
The programmes adopt a pyramidal approach, with more light touch interventions available to larger groups at the bottom, and more specialised support for those children and young people showing a high level of need at the top. The programmes create an environment of love and care the children know they can rely on.
Over the last 18 months, World Jewish Relief has supported 2,818 children and young people, helping to improve their overall mental well-being.
Helping parents back into work
Following the Russian invasion, Ukraine’s economy shrunk by a staggering 29.2% and the unemployment rate will reach 26% this year. As millions fled their homes, they were forced to leave friends, family and jobs behind. Huge factories have been destroyed by shelling, leaving many without income and the ability to provide for themselves and their families. These internally displaced persons (IDPs) are struggling to find employment due to lack of relevant work experience or anxiety, depression and other mental health disorders resulting from the trauma of war.
Based on over 10 years of experience in Ukraine and through our local partners, we’re helping adults find employment through our Back to Work Programme. The programme uses a hybrid model of online and offline training sessions which improve the communication skills and psychological state of participants, so they feel able to enter the job market again. We are prioritising displaced women, who are impacted most by the crisis.
Older People on the Frontlines
The impact of war on Older People
The impact of the war on older people has been immense. Despite their vulnerability, they are less likely than other groups to evacuate and relocate for a range of reasons including immobility, uncertainty and chronic health conditions. 34% of civilian deaths in Ukraine have been over 60s, and strokes and heart attacks have become more frequent as access to healthcare and medicine has been made more difficult. Older people are now isolated, family and friends having fled elsewhere or gone to fight, and are living in severely bombed-out homes.
Even in pre-war Ukraine, homes were falling into disrepair with approximately two-thirds of older Jewish people living alone in Soviet style apartments that have been entirely neglected since they were built in the 1960s. This is felt acutely by older people, many of whom can barely afford to survive on their inadequate pensions. After war broke out 18 months ago, the need has increased dramatically following relentless Russian shelling of civilian homes and apartment blocks.
“Without this help, I would not have been able to survive the winter. Thank you to World Jewish Relief.” – Anatoly, 66-year-old
For over seven years, we have been repairing the homes of older Jewish people in Ukraine, and we are continuing to provide this vital service to those in greatest need. Every repair aims to improve the general living conditions by ensuring at least one room is warm, dry, accessible and safe, and there is easy access to clean water and sanitation.
To reach more vulnerable people more effectively, we are partnering with a new organisation called Insulate Ukraine. They have created a temporary window which costs just £12 for materials and can withstand impact, lets light in due to it being transparent (as opposed to plywood coverings) and importantly provides insulation during winter months.
Active Ageing and Homecare
Our essential Active Ageing and Homecare activities for older members of the Jewish community continues despite ongoing shelling. These activities keep people physically and mentally active as they age. With many younger people leaving Ukraine, there is a higher number of Jewish older people without the support networks they previously had. This means that more people need homecare in some form to help them survive and we will continue delivering this vital service. After Emilia was left alone and unable to support herself, we provided her with a homecare worker through our partner Hesed Shaare Tikva.
“Life has become not just much easier – it has become possible to live. If I feel bad, Lenochka helps cook food. Help is invaluable! I thank those who came up with this project and help people like me feel the joy of life and confidence in the future!” – Emilia, 76-year-old
Ukrainian Refugees in the UK
World Jewish Relief was founded in 1933 to rescue Jews from persecution in Nazi Europe, and we have been helping refugees for 90 years. Since February 2022 World Jewish Relief has supported Ukrainians fleeing their homes and seeking safety in the UK.
Homes for Ukraine
When the British Government launched its Homes for Ukraine sponsorship scheme, they approached us to be an official partner. We immediately recruited our two-person Homes for Ukraine team and began a thorough process of screening and matching Ukrainian families with generous individuals who had offered to host them. We have matched 52 Ukrainians with hosts, focusing on the depth and quality of our matches to ensure they are a success for all involved. Now, as official hosting periods come to a close, our priority is ensuring all Ukrainians have somewhere to live, where possible in the local areas that have become their homes.
Sabina Artemieva is our Homes for Ukrainian Project Officer and Caseworker. Herself a refugee who fled Ukraine last March, we asked her why our approach is effective. She said:
“We have strong and close contact with Ukrainians. We don’t just match them and forget about them; we hold their hands and walk alongside them. My clients tell me that we are their family here. Also, we know that accommodation is not enough. I work closely with our Employment Advisors to ensure my clients can find work and learn English. It’s so important that we give them an opportunity to become independent.”
World Jewish Relief’s Specialist Training and Employment Programme (STEP) was launched in 2016 and supports 1,500 refugees every year on their journeys into employment. Since the outbreak of war last year, we have worked with 286 individuals through STEP Ukraine, a tailored programme for those arriving to the UK from the country.
Following a recent appointment by the UK Government’s Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, STEP Ukraine is now being scaled up to support up to 10,000 Ukrainians across the UK, in partnership with the British Council.
The free intensive, virtual programme comprises 10 weeks of daily English classes run by the British Council, and 12 weeks of employment support with a dedicated Employment Advisor, to assist with CV writing, job applications, interview prep, skills training and job search.
An existing STEP Ukraine client said of the support from their Employment Advisor:
“Working with you was a transformative experience for me. The tools and strategies provided by you empowered me to take control of my life”.