Ukraine 2 years later: the drama of millions of lives suspended


By John

After two years of full-scale war in Ukraine, with massive destruction, continuous bombing and Russian missile attacks across the country, the future of millions of people – both internally displaced people and refugees abroad – remains shrouded in uncertainty. As always, it is civilians who pay the highest price for the conflict, but beyond the daily deprivations and insecurity, there are now partly invisible psychological wounds that will mark the population for a long time, especially the young generations, mortgaging their future. Arianna Briganti, development socio-economist and development specialist, spoke to AGI about it Gender Equality and Women, Peace and Security (WPS), following a recent mission to Ukraine, focusing on civilian mental health. «In hospitals, clinics, camps for displaced people and in other contexts of daily life, I have found some truly worrying signs in the psychological health of civilians, particularly among the most vulnerable categories such as women, children and the elderly. Not to mention, in a context without rules such as that of war, the widespread gender violence and the fragility of the men who fight”, says Briganti, vice-president of NOVE, caring humans, awarded the Order of Merit of the Italian Republic recognition of his commitment to human rights.

«The conflict heavily affects the daily lives of those who remained at home, that is, a majority of women with children and the elderly, who have to deal with the traumas linked to the loss of relatives and friends, as well as the constant risk of death from falling bombs. At the moment, in the emergency, few people think about it but the damage of the emotional and psychological destruction will be seen further down the road”, suggests the expert on war scenarios. «Another group to pay particular attention to are all the men sent to the front, including many young people who fight, without their right to physiological stop being respected. The army on the front line is not supported in the slightest so it is clear that the soldiers already have and will certainly have in the future problems of serial depression linked to the psychological impact of war. What will become of them if in the end they manage to return home?” asks Briganti. «Not even those who have suffered permanent physical damage should be forgotten: after having been amputated and the missing limb replaced with a prosthesis in one of the physio-therapeutic centers set up in Lviv, they are almost immediately sent back to the front», reporting even more cases complex but unfortunately widespread. «What is really missing is hope for the future. Looking beyond the end of the conflict, to rebuild a strong society that can face future challenges, material aid alone is not enough. To heal the wounds of the soul and avoid harmful social stigma, it is truly essential to guarantee psychological support to Ukrainians”, concludes Briganti.

Another testimony from the ground comes from CARE Ukraine, on the front line with civilians. “People on the front lines tell us that their lives have become a lottery, because they don't know whether they will live or die in the next few hours. They only go out for short distances and only for vital activities such as fetching water, providing for the needs of elderly relatives or buying medicines or bread”, explains Fabrice Martin, national director of the NGO.

«When they leave home they don't know if they will be attacked, if they will step on a landmine or if their house will still be standing when they return. This is currently the harsh reality for millions of Ukrainians,” adds the humanitarian source. As of March 2022, the Ukrainian population is facing increasing levels of poverty and aid dependency. 65% of Ukrainian families have seen their income decrease and almost 44% of them, despite public assistance which can reach 3,000 hryvnia (around 73 euros), struggle to satisfy their primary needs. In total, 40% of the Ukrainian population is in need of humanitarian assistance. In the eastern and southern regions of Ukraine, more than 3 million people face the harsh reality of bombing and famine every day.

Deprived of basic services, many are confined to cold, dark basements, facing the constant threat of violence and displacement. The cost in terms of damage to civil infrastructure is catastrophic, with 1,523 medical facilities, 1,600 schools and nearly 400,000 bridges left in ruins. Essential services such as electricity and water have been decimated, exacerbating the humanitarian crisis. The destruction has left nearly 40,000 people in the worst-hit regions of Ukraine without access to adequate and safe housing. Over the last two years, according to the latest data released by the UN, a total of 14 million people have had to leave their homes – that is, a third of the total Ukrainian population – of which 6.5 million are still living abroad refugees. The International Organization for Migration (IOM) still recorded between 3.7 and 4 million internally displaced persons, while 4.5 million people returned home both from abroad and from the area where they had moved abroad. within the national territory. “Destruction is widespread, loss of life and suffering continues. As the war enters a prolonged phase, the needs continue to grow and exceed available resources,” he emphasizes Amy Pope, Director General of the IOM. Among those who have fled and have now returned to their homes, “many have faced lasting challenges, including insecurity, loss of livelihoods, damaged housing and infrastructure, and strained services,” he said. Soda Federico, IOM Director for Humanitarian Response and Recovery. The impact of this war has been particularly devastating for women and girls. With families divided they face increasing difficulties in accessing safety, justice, social services, mental, sexual and reproductive health services, employment and other essential services.

72% of those registered as unemployed are women, who have a growing burden of unpaid responsibilities for poor childcare, closed schools and reduced social services. War has also increased risks of gender-based violence, including conflict-related sexual violence, human trafficking and domestic violence. “As women continue to suffer the consequences of war, they need support, security and, above all, peace. Their resilience has been long-lasting and remarkable,” he says Sabine Freizer Gunes, representative of UN Women in Ukraine. Finally, a large part of Ukrainian children have been deprived of formal education for 4 years, due to the Covid-19 pandemic and the war, which affects their cognitive development and damages their mental health. In December 2023, the United Nations estimated that $3.9 billion was needed for the distribution of adequate humanitarian aid, but around 60% of the appeal was funded. In 2024, more than 8 million women and girls in Ukraine will need humanitarian assistance.

Overall, the UN expects to need a total of $4.2 billion to provide humanitarian aid to Ukrainians and refugees who have fled, but fears a likely shortfall as the war in Gaza dominates global attention. In its latest report, the United Nations Human Rights Monitoring Mission in Ukraine (HRMMU) counted 30,457 civilian casualties as of February 24, 2022, including 10,582 people killed and 19,875 injured, with real figures likely significantly higher.