Charities Comforting Ukrainian ChildrenRussia’s war with Ukraine has forced millions of Ukrainians to flee their homeland. The war is devastating the country; its infrastructure and economy are collapsing. Ukrainians are suffering on a large scale. As of May 2023, 8,255,288 refugees throughout Europe are noted. In response, there are charities comforting Ukrainian children through books.

Refugees receive vital needs such as food and shelter, yet they do not have the support for education or job opportunities.

Among the most vulnerable are children who need help to rebuild their livelihoods amid the displacement. The following are charities working to comfort Ukrainian children.

Books Away From Home

This organization is bringing refugee children books in their language. Books Away from Home help Ukrainian children connect to their homeland through its project: Books for the Youngest Ukrainian Refugees.

The nonprofit began with the goal of providing five picture books in Ukrainian to refugees in the Netherlands. In collaboration with the Ukrainian embassies in the Netherlands and Belgium, the Ukrainian Book Institute and Ten Brink Publishers, the Books for the Youngest Ukrainian Refugees project orders thousands of books for children in shelters, schools and hospitals.

Books for the Youngest Ukrainian Refugees has raised money for the publication and distribution of 20,000 books, and we receive new book requests daily from schools, families and refugee shelters.”

The project expanded to Belgium, Luxembourg and Germany. The organization started with a focus on Ukrainian children, but the non-profit is developing projects for refugees all over the world who are taking refuge in Europe.

Better Time Stories

Better Time Stories is one of many charities comforting Ukrainian children. Its goal is to send Ukrainian refugee children living in the Netherlands, Belgium, Germany and Austria books narrated by their loved ones.

How Does the Project Work

Children between the ages of 3 and 7 can receive a package with 5 picture books, an hour-and-a-half-long audiobook, a maximum of 25 narrations by family members recorded remotely and a crafts box to build a character.

Bestselling authors contribute to the project, helping Ukrainian children connect with their families stuck in Ukraine. The books offer themes of hope, love, new beginnings and sleep. Technology enables these children to hear their family member’s voices even when they are separated. So far, Better Time Stories has helped 5,056 families re-connect.

Books Follow – Zimin Foundation

The Zimin Foundation’s objective is to develop science and education for various communities throughout the world. The philanthropic organization has many partnerships with community organizations.

One project it participates in, Books Follow, is providing books for Ukrainian refugees. With a community of volunteers, the Zimin Foundation helps give thousands of books to Ukrainian refugee children living in Europe.

“The project also supported the procurement of books in Ukrainian, board games and drawing supplies and their delivery as Christmas gifts for 1,000 refugees from Ukraine living in various EU cities.”

Why do Refugees Need Books?

One child reads books from Better Time Stories with his host family. The children read different versions in their language. “Together they teach each other words in the other language, which often makes them laugh.” Despite the suffering and loss, children can find comfort in books. Books build community. Better Time Stories is one of three charities comforting Ukrainian children with the power of the written word.

– Ellie Bruce

Photo: Flickr

Diia appThe Ukrainian government released the Diia app in 2020 to help the government reach all citizens and ensure access to a wide array of governmental services. Now, amid the war that began in February 2022, displaced citizens are using the Diia app to access monetary assistance, digital versions of official documents and other modes of aid.

The Functionalities of the Diia APP

Ukraine’s official site,, states that one of Diia’s goals is “to make 100% public services available online.” The available services include access to digital documents, such as one’s driver’s license or passport, that have the same legal strength as a physical copy. Furthermore, the app also allows Ukrainians to make payments to the government or register new businesses quickly.

The Tony Blair Institute for Global Change reported 13 million Diia users in Ukraine by the close of 2021, which was partially influenced by the introduction of COVID-19 aid and vaccine certification through the app. As the population in Ukraine in 2020 stood at about 44.13 million, around 29.5% of the Ukrainian population used the Diia app in 2021.

Post-War Digital Connections

However, the Diia app became significantly more important following the February 2022 Russian invasion. The United Nations Refugee Agency recorded more than 6.3 million Ukrainian refugees across Europe as of August 10, 2022. As early as May 2022, the United Nations estimated that more than 8 million Ukrainians faced internal displacement within Ukraine itself. Despite this, the app can still track the locations of registered Ukrainians no matter where they are and provide limited cash aid as well as the services mentioned above.

The government also introduced a simplified identification process that allows Ukrainians access to certain neighboring countries such as Moldova and Poland. Furthermore, it adopted the aid system used for COVID-19 to send “the equivalent of the monthly minimum wage” to anyone working in war-affected regions. Thus, the government is providing financial assistance to those both in and outside of Ukraine to support citizens and keep them out of poverty.

Finally, the app allows Ukrainians to keep track of the events taking place in their home country from firsthand sources. In an interview with the news site Emerging Europe, Ukrainian Minister of Digital Transformation Mykhailo Fedorov stated that the app gives constant information on the state of the war and allows citizens to directly support the military with funding. This is important because the Diia app bypasses language barriers and disinformation to directly inform its citizens regardless of where they are.

The Future of Digitalization

Although not intended for a wartime scenario, Diia is making a massive difference to keep displaced Ukrainians financially secure and aware of current events. Not only does this help keep citizens afloat and out of poverty but it also helps keep their spirits up by informing them about the events occurring in their home country.

Diia’s widespread post-war availability proves the advantages of reaching out to those unable to easily access government services due to location, physical handicaps or poverty. Digital systems that aid those struggling in society can often be adjusted and reused in times of crisis to aid the general public and keep them from falling into poverty themselves.

– Henry Bauer
Photo: Flickr

Uniting for Ukraine programIn April 2022, the U.S. government began the Uniting for Ukraine program. This allows Ukrainians with financial sponsorship to temporarily live in the United States and take refuge from ongoing war conditions. This program covers those who lived in Ukraine when the war began and fled to other countries. Applicants must have a supporter in the United States who will “agree to provide them with financial support for the duration of their stay in the [country].”

About the Program

In addition to financial sponsorship, the Uniting for Ukraine program guarantees the right to work and residence for up to two years according to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. While U.S. President Biden promised protection for 100,000 Ukrainians through this program, the actual number of Ukrainians supported will depend on the number of willing financial sponsors in the United States.

Applicants must be Ukrainian citizens or immediate family members of a Ukrainian citizen who is applying to the program. The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services states that children without a legal guardian cannot apply for this program, but may apply for a separate parole process if they have a parent or guardian already in the United States.

One limitation is that individuals seeking sanctuary must cover for their own travel costs to the United States. However, there is a 90-day grace period to travel after an application has been authorized.

War Struggles

The current economic situation in Ukraine is dire. In March 2022, the UNDP projected that “90% of the Ukrainian population could be facing poverty” over the course of a year if the Russian invasion continued. Although the United Nations is doing its best to help, the damage inflicted on Ukraine can be measured in hundreds of billions of dollars and will continue to rise as the war continues.

The number of Ukrainians forced to leave their home country is equally dramatic. In 2020, the population of Ukraine was 44.13 million. As of August 18, the UNHCR recorded 6,657,918 Ukrainian refugees. This means at least 13.6% of the country’s population was forced to flee elsewhere with the majority moving to the neighboring countries of Russia and Poland.

And of these refugees, 3.74 million of them are registered under the European Union’s Temporary Protection Directive, which provides benefits such as housing, the right to work and health care.

Support From Overseas

While the Uniting for Ukraine program is not as comprehensive as the EU directive, it still acts as a way for the United States to aid Ukrainians who would otherwise be suffering. This program hopefully signals that the U.S. will provide more direct support to refugees in the future. For now, U.S. residents willing and able to be a supporter can find the relevant form on the Citizenship and Immigration Services website.

– Henry Bauer
Photo: WikiCommons

On the night of Monday, June 20, 2022, Russian journalist Dmitry Muratov’s Nobel Peace Prize sold at auction for $103.5 million, all of which was donated to UNICEF to aid child refugees in Ukraine.

Ukrainian Refugee Crisis

As of July 2022, more than 5.6 million refugees from Ukraine have been recorded across Europe as a result of the ongoing war, with 8.7 million recorded border crossings. With nearly half a million children in Ukraine, UNICEF worries about the effects of living in a war-torn area.

In response to the conflict, UNICEF has ramped up its humanitarian aid to the region. In a statement following the Russian invasion of Ukraine, UNICEF Executive Director Catherine M. Russell said, “heavy weapons fire along the line of contact has already damaged critical water infrastructure and education facilities in recent days. Unless the fighting subsides, tens of thousands of families could face displacement, dramatically escalating humanitarian needs.”

UNICEF’s response focuses on providing health, hygiene and emergency education supplies. It is also getting safe water to areas in conflict, assisting children separated from families and working to ensure there is help for children and families. It has additionally established a fund to assist child refugees in Ukraine.

Dmitry Muratov’s Nobel Peace Prize

Muratov received the Nobel Peace Prize in 2021 for his work toward journalistic freedom and safeguarding democracy. After the fall of the Soviet Union, Muratov founded a newspaper, the Novaya Gazeta. The newspaper advocated for freedom of press and expression in Russia.

The Novaya Gazeta is critical of Russian officials and does not shy away from exposing corruption within the Russian government. Six of the Gazeta’s journalists lost their lives for their journalistic work on Russian military operations.

Muratov is no stranger to taking on Russian imperialism and has used his place as editor-in-chief to be critical of the Russian annexation of Crimea in 2014.

The Auction

According to NPR, Muratov conducted the auction through Heritage Auctions and opened bidding online on June 1, 2022, with all proceeds set to go to UNICEF’s Ukraine child refugee fund. In-person bidding occurred on Monday, June 20.

By Monday morning, the ending day of the auction, the online bid had only reached $550,000. The auction increased in increments initially. Then, suddenly, the highest bid jumped from $16.6 million to the winning $103.5 million from an anonymous caller, NPR reports.

This is blowing away the previous highest bid for a Nobel Prize of $4.76 million. In response to the results of the auction, Muratov stated in an interview with the Associated Press, “I was hoping that there was going to be an enormous amount of solidarity, but I was not expecting this to be such a huge amount.” All of the funds are already in UNICEF’s possession.

Muratov is a lifelong advocate for freedom and a critic of Russian expansionism. This auction is his latest act of generosity and advocacy, resulting in $103.5 million for child refugees in Ukraine.

– Eleanor Corbin
Photo: Wikicommons

Ukrainian InventionsUkraine is the second poorest country in Europe, with a per capita GDP of less than $3000. Ukraine had a difficult time rebuilding its economy after the collapse of the USSR in 1991 and was left with a crumbling economy due to corruption, poor infrastructure and many other factors. Despite the shortcomings of Ukraine’s economy, it has shown incredible potential for innovation and ingenuity because of the high-tech inventions that have come out of the Ukrainian workforce. Increased investment in Ukrainian inventions would drive it to success and improve the economy by creating stable work conditions. Improving infrastructure and creating sustainable job opportunities would help the economy grow and help Ukraine continue making world-renowned inventions.

5 High-Tech Ukrainian Inventions

  1. Grammarly: Grammarly was founded in Ukraine by Alex Shevchenko and Max Lytvyn in 2009. Grammarly uses AI software to proofread text on sites like Google, LinkedIn, various social media sites and more, while offering grammatical corrections. It is now a U.S.-based company and a widely popular tool for producing academic papers, professional documents and other bodies of text.
  2. Snapchat Filters: Snapchat filters and lenses first came about when Snapchat acquired Ukrainian startup, Looksery. Looksery is a facial recognition software that allows users to put filters on themselves while video chatting. Looksery was bought in 2015, started by a Ukrainian team with Victor Shaburov as the CEO. Snapchat uses the technology to create its filters, one of the many successful and important updates to the social media app. Instagram, another social media app, followed in the footsteps of Snapchat and introduced a version of Instagram photo filters in 2018.
  3. Apps for Deaf People: BeWarned, a Ukrainian-based startup co-founded by Vitaliy Potapchuck, is an application that people who are deaf can download on their phones to help them communicate with others. Potapchuck is also deaf and designed the app to pick up possible dangerous sounds and call for emergency help. BeWarned also makes other software for those who are deaf and hard of hearing.
  4. Virtual Reality Gloves: In 2016, a Ukrainian team of engineers created a prototype virtual reality glove that allows users to “feel” virtual reality items as if they were real. The glove mimics real-life hand motions and is used for a variety of things besides virtual reality gaming. Healthcare professionals can use the glove to study mobility and disease treatments. Co-founder, Denis Pankrushev, wanted the technology to “open new horizons for mankind.” This opened doors for virtual reality innovation and put Ukrainian technology startups in the spotlight.
  5. Uber for Yachts: The company CharterClick was started by three Ukrainian immigrants in Dubai to provide an easy way to rent a boat or luxury yacht for events. The team created CharterClick to show that complicated tasks like renting an expensive cruise with a full crew, can be completed in a short amount of time with just a few clicks. The service operates in more than 40 countries and is dubbed “the world’s most convenient vessel booking service.”

Ukrainian Inventions: Potential for the Economy

Ukraine ranked second place in the Top Three Innovation Economies by lower-middle-income group according to the Global Innovation Index. It is also ranked 45th in the world by the Global Innovation Index. There is massive potential for Ukrainian technology to continue its path of innovation and unlock itself to the European market. International investment can help improve the poor infrastructure that drives creative minds and job opportunities out of the country.

Google Ukraine’s CEO recognizes the brilliant minds of the country, but notes that many of them choose to work in the U.S. because of more “favorable conditions.” Favorable conditions include better infrastructure, better pay and a market that attracts investors. Ukraine is closed off to the international market because of its poor societal conditions, which is detrimental to its working-class and the overall economy.

How Supportive Infrastructure Will Improve the Economy

Ukrainian infrastructure is one of the main reasons that working in the country is difficult. The majority of the roads in Ukraine are too poor to carry cargo and passengers, limiting trades in the country and making it difficult to get to work. Ukraine has set an infrastructure plan for 2030 that includes improvement of all transportation systems with a high price tag. Over the next 10 years, Ukraine requires up to $25 billion of investment to complete the plan as it can only fund $.1.5 billion per year on its own.

Transforming Ukraine: Inventions and Infrastructure

Putting technological growth in the spotlight will attract more investors that want to see the Ukrainian technology sector thrive. Much-needed funding can come from international attention to the infrastructure problem. Improvement will create construction job opportunities and motivate the government to tend to the sectors that are struggling.

Ukrainian inventors should be able to work in their own country without having to migrate to another. Not to mention that infrastructure improvement will help many other citizens easily find work and improve the economy. Ukrainian inventions have the potential to kickstart the country’s economy and help with its development.

– Julia Ditmar
Photo: Flickr

5 Facts About Homelessness in UkraineUkraine, a former Soviet Republic, currently has the 112th largest GDP per capita in the world. However, Ukraine’s economy has lagged behind those of other European powers and is considered to be a developing country. Experiencing wars and widespread poverty, Ukraine’s homeless population has grown in recent years, especially amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Here are five facts you need to know about homelessness in Ukraine.

5 Things to Know About Homelessness in Ukraine

  1. The number of homeless people in Ukraine is unknown: The Ukrainian government only counts the homeless population who qualify for government aid. As such, many NGOs, including the Ukrainian Social Fund Partnership, and other experts estimate that the homeless population in Ukraine was over 200,000 in 2015. With a 9.2% unemployment rate pre-COVID-19 and 1.5 million people in Ukraine living below the poverty line, these figures are likely understated. However, if these estimates are to be believed, Ukraine would have one of the highest rates of homelessness in Europe with a similar homelessness rate to that of countries like Peru and Guatemala. The level of homelessness in Ukraine is difficult to track due to a lack of adequate government surveillance and social services available for homeless individuals to use.
  2. The war with Russia has increased the homeless population: Since the Russian invasion of Crimea in 2014, 2,777 civilians have been killed. The military conflict between Russia and Ukraine has also left an estimated 1.6 million internally displaced people (IDPs) as civilians have fled conflict zones to the relative safety of Kyiv. Made up largely of ethnic minorities, the large amount of internally displaced persons within Ukraine gives the country the most amount of IDPs in the world. The United Nations Refugee Agency and other organizations have provided shelter to these refugees in an effort to prevent them from becoming homeless. Additionally, in 2019, the Ukrainian parliament passed a bill to increase funds for affordable housing for displaced persons, providing housing for 800 IDP families. Despite these efforts, the Ukrainian refugee crisis has undoubtedly contributed to homelessness in Ukraine although exact numbers are unknown. However, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) did report that in 2019, it failed to provide shelter and other needs for between 8000 to 9000 internally displaced families in Ukraine.
  3. Leftover Soviet-era policies discriminate against homelessness in Ukraine: During Soviet-era Ukraine government documents called propiska served as a form of internal passport to allow access to social services and travel within the Soviet Union. Although these documents were abolished in name by the Ukrainian government in 1997, residence permits serving the same function as propiska are still used. Ethnic minorities like Roma, displaced persons and the homeless are not issued these documents due to a lack of residency. These documents serve the same purpose as the Soviet documentation once did and as such, Ukrainians still refer to them as propiska. Without propiska, the homeless population in Ukraine does not have access to public housing, homeless shelters, unemployment benefits, food coupons, employment, childcare or the right to vote. This practice of issuing government identification only to those with homes has often been criticized by organizations like the European Roma Rights Centre (ERRC) for deliberately discriminating against impoverished and minority communities.
  4. Social aid has become more restrictive: In April of 2016, a spokesperson from the NGO Narondna Dopomoga revealed to the Kyiv Post that they were no longer being allowed by the government to register homeless people for propiska. Previously, a homeless person was able to register via a homeless shelter or center and would gain access to social payments from the government and employment opportunities. However, with new legislation, the homeless are required to have a place of residence (which may include a semi-permanent bed at a shelter) in order to apply for these benefits. These restrictions have been criticized for appealing to anti-homeless sentiments within Ukrainian society.
  5. Several NGOs are stepping up in the absence of government assistance: Because Ukraine is a conflict zone with one of the worst economies in the world, the Ukrainian government lacks the ability to adequately respond to the country’s homelessness crisis. However, because the country receives a large amount of aid from the United Nations and its partner NGOs, there have been some efforts to combat homelessness in Ukraine. For example, the Ukrainian Charity Fund Social Partnership in Kyiv has a center where thousands of homeless come each day. Here they receive food, medical assistance, facilities to clean themselves, laundromats and access to recreational facilities. Helping the homeless youth, ex-convicts and refugees who come through, the Ukrainian Charity Fund Social Partnership also helps these groups to find employment that does not require propiska. Other organizations like Depaul provide shelter for the homeless, especially those fleeing conflict zones in eastern Ukraine as well as homeless mothers and their children.

Due to its struggling economy and war with Russia, Ukraine has suffered an increase in the homeless population in the past few years. Ranging from the unemployed to internally displaced people, government policy often discriminates against those without homes. However, with the intervention of U.N. organizations and other NGOs, homelessness in Ukraine is being addressed. With shelters, jobs and other facilities being provided, many homeless people are being tended to although much is still yet to be done on the part of the Ukrainian government.

– Aidan Sun
Photo: Flickr

Facts About Joseph Stalin
Born on Dec 18, 1878, Joseph Stalin served as the Soviet Union’s Premier and the General Secretary of the Communist Party. Here are 10 horrendous facts about Joseph Stalin.

10 Horrendous Facts About Joseph Stalin

  1. As the Communist Party’s General Secretary, Stalin conducted so-called purges throughout the 1930s during which his administration imprisoned, exiled or executed political enemies and ethnic minorities. The time between 1936 and 1938 was the Great Purge and Stalin had approximately 750,000 people executed and sent millions to forced labor camps. In a forest by Toksovo, a small town near St. Petersburg, human rights workers discovered a mass grave of more than 30,000 victims in 2002.
  2. The First Plan, implemented in 1928, had a motive to modernize the Soviet Union’s industry. Stalin introduced the concept of collectivization by taking control of farmers’ lands. As a result, many farmers had to move towards cities for work. Stalin created state-run farms in the usurped lands and introduced time-specific quotas for the remaining farmers. These farmers could not eat the food they produced unless they reached the quotas they had to send to the cities. Subsequently, between 7 and 8 million people died on these rural lands from starvation and severe working conditions.
  3. Stalin designed and nurtured a famine throughout Ukraine between 1932 and 1933 that resulted in the death of approximately 7 million people. The Communist Party specifically targeted Ukraine for its efforts in gaining independence from Soviet rule. Stalin enforced quotas on Ukrainian farms to agricultural products to the Soviet Union. These quotas continued to increase until there was not enough food to sustain Ukrainian populations. When Ukrainian Communists appealed to the Soviet administration, Stalin used military force to purge the Ukrainian Communist Party and subsequently sealed Ukraine’s borders to prevent the shipment of food into the country. Additionally, Soviet forces confiscated all food sources from private Ukrainian residences.
  4. In 1919, Vladimir Lenin established the first Soviet forced labor camps. However, these camps, called the Gulags, did not reach full notoriety until the early 1930s under Stalin’s rule. Prisoners at the Gulags had to work at least 14 hours of demanding physical labor every day. These tasks included felling trees and digging frozen Soviet lands with rudimentary tools or mining coal and copper by hand. Prisoners received food based on how much work they completed in a day, however, even a full ration was insignificant. This labor force comprised of robbers, rapists, murderers, thieves and political enemies. Yet the majority of the prisoners were those the Soviets arrested for petty theft, lateness or unexcused absences from work.
  5. During Stalin’s early reign, the communist regime promoted the elimination of religion by confiscating church property, belittling religious beliefs and believers as well as promoting the indoctrination of atheism in schools. The Soviets exected the majority of the Russian Orthodox Church clergy and followers or sent them to the Gulags. The communist regime almost completely blocked the practice of Judaism instigated the systematic suppression of Islam until 1941.
  6. One of Stalin’s most heavily used tactics of oppression was censorship. Stalin cultivated a personality cult of artists that the state forced to create work that glorified the dictator. Those who read literature, viewed paintings and listened to music that the Soviet administration did not approve would have to go to the Gulags. Many artists committed suicide or attempted to flee the country in response.
  7. The Communist Party strictly controlled Education in the Soviet Union and based it on indoctrination. The government dictated which subjects schools could teach and test on. Teachers would teach History classes using materials that Stalin appointed, like the book A Short History of the USSR.
  8. Children received encouragement to join youth organizations outside of schools. Three tiers of these organizations existed: for 8 to 10-year-olds, there were the Octobrists; for 10 to 16-year-olds, the Pioneers; and for 19 to 23-year-olds, the Komsomol. Such organizations taught children how to be good communists. Stalin’s motive behind these youth clubs was to indoctrinate Soviet children into unquestioning obedience to the Communist Party. Further, when Nazi Germany invaded the Soviet Union, children as young as those in the Pioneers tier received arms to defend the State.
  9. Stalin’s rule of the Soviet Union deported over 1.5 million people. The majority of these people were Muslim. Reasons for deportation included resisting Soviet rule, ethnicity, religion and collusion with Germany’s occupational forces. The Soviets had deportees rounded up in cattle cars and taken to resettlement locations like Siberia or Uzbekistan where almost two-fifths of resettled populations died.
  10. Following World War II, Stalin began a press campaign of attacks on Jewish culture and Zionism. In 1948, the Jewish Antifascist Committee, an organization promoting Soviet policies, Stalin’s forces had it disbanded and its chairman assassinated.

As seen by the aforementioned 10 facts about Joseph Stalin, the Communist Party of the Soviet Union created immense suffering and strife under Stalin’s reign. Scholars and historians assert that between 20 and 60 million people died as a result of Joseph Stalin’s dictatorship.

Bhavya Girotra
Photo: Flickr


HIV in Ukraine
Over the past several years, Ukraine has been battling the second largest HIV epidemic in Eastern Europe and Central Asia. As of 2018, approximately estimates determined that 240,000 people were living with HIV in Ukraine out of the nearly 45 million citizens.

Causes of Ukraine’s HIV Epidemic

In origin, Ukraine’s HIV epidemic stems from transmission through the injection of drugs, predominantly among the male population. However, as of 2008, the catalytic force driving the outbreak has shifted to the transmission through sexual contact. According to the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV and AIDS (UNAIDS), up to 73.8 percent of the HIV cases in Ukraine during 2018 spread through sexual contact.

Complicating treatment initiatives is the fact that only 71 percent of the people living with HIV in Ukraine are aware of their condition and only 52 percent are receiving treatment. Further, the war in Donbass between the Ukrainian government and pro-Russian separatists has spurred the spread of the virus as national unrest grows. Both war conflict and HIV are predominant in the Ukrainian provinces of Donetsk and Luhansk. Initially, the government made attempts to supply the areas with antiretrovirals for HIV treatment but security reasons and separatist control throughout the region obstructed the efforts.

Efforts to Treat and Prevent HIV

Following the report of 12,000 new HIV cases among citizens in 2018, the Ukrainian government designated $16 million to fund and expand HIV prevention methods and treatment services for the 2019-2020 year. This budget is a part of Ukraine’s plan to shift to a nationally-funded HIV response as opposed to the previously held international donor funding.

Working closely with the government, 100% Life, the largest patient-based and nonprofit organization in Ukraine for people living with HIV provides services for up to 90,000 patients. According to the Ukrainian Philanthropic Forum, the organization served as the nation’s largest philanthropist in both 2016 and 2017.

Moreover, in March 2019, Merck & Co. Inc., a pharmaceutical company, agreed to reduce the price of HIV treatment drug Raltegravir as a direct result of the organization’s advocacy. The cost per pill fell from $5.50 to $2.75, the lowest price for the drug in all of Eastern Europe and Central Asia. This was not the first time that 100% Life urged the company to make treatment more accessible for HIV patients. In 2016, the price reduction of HIV drug Atripla also received confirmation as Merck & Co. Inc. agreed to forgo patent protection of the drug. Estimates allege that non-patented or generic versions of the drug should result in savings that could provide up to an additional 2,800 patients with treatment annually.

Despite the intensity and duration of Ukraine’s HIV epidemic, the nation’s government and activists are continuously working to ensure treatment and prevention initiatives for the whole population. The implementation of a domestic response budget and the availability of more cost-effective treatment commence the reinvigoration of Ukraine’s approach to HIV management and restriction.

Bhavya Girotra
Photo: Unsplash

Mental Health In Ukraine

Since gaining independence from the Soviet Union in 1991, Ukraine has faced many troubles. As of early 2014, Ukraine has been in nearly continual conflict with Russia and Eastern Ukraine’s pro-Russian separatists. Ukraine is also home to almost 45 million people. In July 2018, over 1.5 million people were internally displaced, meaning that they had to leave their homes as a result of the fighting. Mental health in Ukraine is affected by the enduring strife in their country.

Issues Impacting Mental Health in Ukraine

Many of those living in Ukraine deal with problems like anxiety and depression, that negatively influence their mental health. These conditions are exacerbated by turmoil. Citizens of Ukraine have dealt with the consequences and brutalities of war, including casualties of friends and family members. Some have had to leave behind the places they call home.

In addition, physical threats are also often an issue. Those living in war zones or even partial cease-fire zones, such as the line of contact through Donetsk and Luhansk, are in constant danger. Roughly 3,300 civilians were killed from 2014 to 2018.

Mental health care is also taboo in Ukraine. During the Soviet era, mental health issues were used as an excuse to imprison in asylums those with differing political beliefs from those in power. The ramifications of this injustice persist today, with many skeptical of psychiatry.

This taboo worsens the effects of anxiety and depression. One survey of 1,000 internally displaced individuals found that 20 percent of those internally displaced suffer from moderately severe to severe anxiety. Also, 25 percent suffered from moderately severe to severe depression. These numbers are significantly higher than the percentage of people suffering from anxiety or depression in the United Kingdom.

The stigma surrounding mental health deters some from voicing their struggles. The matter is further complicated as people who prefer to speak with Church leaders are now unable to do so because many leaders have also fled out of necessity. Those living in separatist territories are denied access to a psychological help hotline. Also, up to 77 percent of the internally displaced are completely deprived of any and all forms of professional help.

Organizations Working to Improve Mental Health in Ukraine

UNICEF has a mobile outreach program that aims to provide psychosocial support to the people of Ukraine. These individual and group activities are designed to focus on relieving anxiety and fear, issues that are abundant in the turbulent areas. UNICEF’s efforts are near the line of contact and provide help for children and their caregivers; 1,792 people were helped by these efforts during January 2019.

Also, UNICEF established the aforementioned hotline for both legal and psychological relief. In 2017, over 43,000 calls were made to the hotline. This outlet for help provides much-needed support to those in need.

The WHO, in cooperation with Ukrainian health authorities, also created a mobile mental health center to provide psychological services, support and education. The program is community-based. Based on the success of the four mobile units across the conflict areas, this system may be implemented on a larger scale as a measure to reform mental health care in Ukraine.

Johns Hopkins University, along with USAID, recently completed a project that started in March 2015 in Ukraine. The design sought to improve the mental health of community members and research the effects that conflict has had on the population.

With the help of these organizations and more, hopefully, the effects of the Ukrainian struggle on mental health can be alleviated. The programs are working to find workable solutions to mental health stigmas and to provide relief for those facing issues with mental health in Ukraine.

– Carolyn Newsome
Photo: Flickr

The Endless War in the DonbassThe War in Donbass is still ongoing after its onset in 2014. What started as a trade disagreement between the former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych and Russia, spiraled into civil protest which shifted into a bloody civil war among the protestors and the military.

Living in a War Zone

Since then, the civil war has worsened, affecting a majority of the citizens who reside in the war zone. There will be no signs of a permanent ceasefire within the country until common ground is found between the resistance and Russia’s military presence. Nick Thompson, a reporter for CNN, stated in 2016 that, “Ukraine’s prolonged stalemate is causing grief and isolation among millions living in the conflict zone, the United Nations warns, 9,500 people have been killed in the violence and more than 22,100 injured, including Ukrainian armed forces, civilians and members of armed groups, the UN says.”

Damaged Healthcare Facilities

Along with the high casualty rate, health care for citizens is becoming harder to reach due to the destruction of many hospitals and healthcare clinics in the region. Nearly one-third of medical facilities in the Donbass region have reported damage as a result of the conflict from the civil war.

The destruction of medical facilities is only worsening the burden placed on the citizens of the Donbass by the war. The significantly reduced accessibility of healthcare is compounding the many elements of poverty that have stricken the region.

A Weakened Economy

Before the war, the urbanized area of the region accounted for nearly 15 percent of Ukraine’s population and produced 16 percent of its domestic product. The GDP in Ukraine in 2013 was approximately 183.31 Billion USD until the conflict arose, which dropped the GDP by nearly 50 percent.

This reflects the economy present within the region and asserts the idea that individuals, as well as the country, are suffering from the effects of the civil war. Many have been forced out of their homes to migrate to other parts of Ukraine leaving displaced individuals in need of aid. While the EU expanded sanctions against Russia for a brief period, they shrank back in 2015, reducing Russia’s incentives to end the conflict.

The War in Donbass has permanently affected the people who once lived there or are currently residing in the war zone. This war has created many new elements of poverty by damaging the economy and reducing healthcare access. Many reforms will have to be established in order to combat against this civil war and rebuild the region once the war has ceased.

Struggling Peace Agreements

NATO has increasingly worked on their relationship with Russia in order to hinder the war but most of these agreements have failed to appease both sides.

While the outlook for the Donbass region may appear grim, the EU can still hold its considerable sanction power over Russia. Additionally, peace agreements are still in the works, despite their failures to reach a quick conclusion. A number of organizations are undergoing efforts to support the people of the region. For instance, the People’s Project of Ukraine, a non-profit organization, is engaging in crowd-sourcing efforts to support those displaced by the war. Consider donating to projects such as these if you are interested in helping the people of Ukraine.

– Elijah Jackson
Photo: Flickr