«Evacuation» project: impossible to forget about saving
May 23 marked one year since the first buses of Rinat Akhmetov Foundation started evacuating women with children from Sloviansk. Altogether in 2014 the team of Rinat Akhmetov Foundation, and later the Humanitarian Center, helped 39,462 Donbas civilians to leave the conflict area, 14,784 of them are children.
May 2014 can be considered the beginning of a mass exodus of peaceful residents from Donbas. War and fierce battles on the streets of recently flourishing cities and towns forced people to leave their homes and save themselves and their children on the peaceful territory of Ukraine.
At that moment nobody in Ukraine was ready for evacuation of civilians on such a scale, there was no experience and no mechanisms developed. The first one to help people with evacuation, which sometimes happened under the bullets, was Rinat Akhmetov Foundation, and subsequently - the Humanitarian Center that united the efforts of the Foundation, SCM Group and Shakhtar Football Club.
First of all, evacuation was provided to those who could not expect help from anywhere. Women, elderly people, children, residents and pupils of state social institutions and orphanages.
"Starting from May and through November 2014, we evacuated about 40,000 people, – Darya Kasyanova, the Head of "Evacuation" project, shares. – Rinat Akhmetov set a goal for the Humanitarian Center to evacuate people as soon as possible, and first of all, these people were families with children, foster families, family-type orphanages. They were evacuated from the "hottest spots" of Donetsk and Luhansk regions. At first they were taken to Sviatohirsk, as it was the closest destination point from Sloviansk and it was still safe, later we mapped a route to the coast of Azov Sea, Dnipropetrovsk region and other towns and cities of Ukraine: Kharkiv, Izium, Kurakhove”.
Peaceful residents were searching for any opportunity to leave the area of active military operations. Viktoria Fedotova and her colleagues were dealing with the whole barrage of calls. It was the first Humanitarian Center's hotline that worked 24/7.Volunteers provided great help and support to residents of Sloviansk, Kramatorsk, Mykolaivka, and Horlivka; they coordinated the routes, helped with tickets, gave psychological support.
"When shelling started, the Foundation offered three employees of MARTIN-Club (the partners of the Foundation's project "Save Family for the Child" - author's note) to become volunteer operators, – Viktoria Fedotova, the Head of the organization, shares. – We just gave our phone numbers and in three hours there was a barrage of calls, coming from Sloviansk residents. The next day they were joined by calls from Donetsk residents: that day marked the beginning of airport assault. There were about ten people working with us – employees from Rinat Akhmetov Foundation and Donetsk activists from those who helped children".
Every day each operator processed from 40 to 80 calls. When receiving a call an operator took the persons' data and found an optimal evacuation option. Besides, while the person was on the Foundation's bus driving to the destination point, he/she was found a free accommodation place. If necessary an operator contacted the Ministry of Emergencies, ambulance or social services. Back then the hotline was working in close cooperation with all the civil society in Ukraine - the initiatives were united and people helped each other at lightning speed. Often we had to solve very complicated tasks – evacuation of non-ambulant patients, old people, and babies. Each case was processed individually. The majority of people were not ready for evacuation, so the operators explained what people should take with them, gave directions on locality, and bought tickets online. The whole evacuation was free; the project was funded by the Foundation and by order of Rinat Akhmetov.
"Evacuation saved lives of millions. The number of victims, including children, would be much higher, if people didn't massively leave the areas of military actions. The input of Rinat Akhmetov Foundation and the Humanitarian Center in saving Donbas civilians is hard to overestimate. Evacuation, both massive and targeted, is quite an expensive action. But none of Humanitarian Center's volunteers expected any gratitude, and there was no time for this – people could hardly get through the barrage of calls. Nevertheless, there was gratitude: peaceful residents, who were evacuated from active shelling, can hardly ever forget about their saving" – Viktoria Fedotova assures.
The noble work of Rinat Akhmetov Foundation on saving our fellow citizens was much supported by the State Emergency Service of Ukraine. The following non-governmental organizations also became the Foundation's partners: "Tvoya Peremoha" (Your Victory), Mutual Help Centre "Let's Save Ukraine", "Slovianske Sertse" (Slavic Heart) volunteer movement, Donbas-SOS and Vostok-SOS volunteer organizations.
"Everything started with our will to help people, – Peter Dudnik, the Head of "Tvoya Peremoha, says". – During intensified military actions Sloviansk was isolated, railway and central bus stations stopped working, it was practically impossible to leave the town. Due to numerous requests for help in social networks, we started helping people, which initially was based on our enthusiasm, and then with support of Rinat Akhmetov Foundation we started evacuating people".
Peter Dudnik got to know Rinat Akhmetov Foundation long before the military actions, as he was cooperating with "Say No to Orphanhood" program and helping to solve the orphans' problems. Peter has 8 children, two of them are his own and the other six are adopted, but they are also his own! Working with the Foundation, he returned smiles on children's faces, and now he had a chance to save people's lives!
"Every day we evacuated from 60 to 150 people. Mothers with children and old people were evacuated towards Izium and Sviatohirsk, bed patients were taken to Kharkiv. And on our way back we transported food back to Sloviansk, – Peter shares. – First the Foundation allocated funds for petrol to transport people. Then the Foundation's Hotline provided us with information about people, who called and requested evacuation. The meeting points were announced via the Hotline. We were practically the only ones in town, who provided stable evacuation for people every day. We were the real support for the local residents, the ones who were coming back to the town and helped.
When Sloviansk was liberated by Ukrainian army, the remaining people were hungry and frightened; there was a huge requirement in food. The Humanitarian Center provided aid here too: several trucks with food were sent to the town to feed the residents of Sloviansk and other front-line towns.
"I highly appreciate the work of the Humanitarian Center and its staff, which is ready to help any time with an open heart. They do not just work out their salaries, they are genuine in helping people" – the Head of NGO says.
Today we talked to Peter on the phone. He is currently at Leaders’ Summit in Sloviansk. The Summit is attended by people, who truly care about the town and its destiny. "Right before your call a woman approached me with words of sincere gratitude for all that had been done to evacuate Sloviansk residents. And I understand what it means, because the number of evacuees reached tens of thousands" – Peter Dudnik says.
Of course, many of IDPs left the hot spots themselves and found an accommodation on their own. But Rinat Akhmetov Humanitarian Center set the goal not only to evacuate civilians from shelling, but also promptly provide the most vulnerable categories of population with temporary accommodation. As a result, the Center provided about 7,000 people with temporary accommodation in recreation centres. After the evacuation people were staying in summer recreation centres for the period from one week to several months.
Besides, the Humanitarian Center allocated UAH 7 million for accommodation of IDPs in recreation centres in Odesa, Kherson and Mykolaiv regions. And for those IDPs, who decided to leave the temporary housing, the Humanitarian Center provided "start-up" certificates for financial aid at UAH 1,500 per each family member.
A year passed since those terrible events. Some of IDPs returned to their homes, some of them keep on travelling around the country. But they can hardly forget about those events. And a year later all of them are dreaming of the same thing – that soon the war ends and peace comes back to their home region Donbas.