Meet the Orphans of the War in Eastern Ukraine
25 May, 2017

Since the start of 2017, five civilians have lost their lives as a result of the ongoing war in Avdiivka, Eastern Ukraine. Four of these deaths occurred on May 13, when a projectile missile fired from the occupied territories struck a courtyard of a house in Ukrainian–controlled Avdiivka. This is one of the areas worst affected by the conflict.

Hromadske went to speak to the families of the children orphaned as a result of this most recent attack.

Next to building no.23 on Pionerskiy Street, in the old part of Avdiivka, it isn’t noticeable that something happened here - the gates are closed and irises bloom next to the building. However, in the courtyard lies a pile of debris, the remains of a festive table, pieces of furniture, a broken dog kennel. There are withered flowers next to the gate left by neighbours. On May 13, as a group of friends were sitting in the yard and two children were playing inside, a shell hit the veranda of the house. 4 people died, and a fifth person, a 25-year-old man, received a serious head injury. seven-year-old Zhenya and four-year-old Sasha were orphaned.

Zhenya is now taken care of by Iryna, her deceased mother’s sister, but Iryna now has to also take care of the girl’s grandparents, who have come from the occupied territories. She hopes that Zhenya’s older brother, Artem will recover and be able to look after her.

Iryna worries about how the loss of her mother will affect the girl, “A psychologist came yesterday. She is a serious person, very clever. She understands that life changes, she saw her mother lying there, she knew that she was dead”.

The grandmother of the other girl, Sasha, works in Avdiivka as a cleaner. She does not have much money, but she says that she is not looking for any help. They do not have any other relatives. She doesn’t want to talk to journalists because she does not believe that anyone will be able to help her.

The stories of these two families from Avdiivka are not unique. In every frontline town there are dozens of people left without a roof over their head, possessions, documents, relatives and loved ones as a result of the shellings. They have to take care of themselves. The state budget does not provide any financial compensation for them. Only the local authorities by allocating money from the local budget and civil organisations can help the residents living in the combat zone.

More than one thousand buildings have been destroyed since the beginning of the year and residents are struggling to rebuild and restore their homes. According to Olha Yudina, a volunteer with "Prolisok", a charity currently working in the area, getting hold of the necessary building materials is one of the main concerns: “There isn’t any consistent help. The city sometimes helps to provide building materials but it’s not enough. A lot has been destroyed, we need glass for the windows. Our organisation helps with building materials, such as tarpaulin sheets in the first instance, but we always need more bricks and glass”.

In order to assist the families of those killed in the crossfire of the combat zone, to provide money not only for repairs, but also to recover the entire cost of lost property, Ukraine would need to change its laws or create a separate law, Deputy Minister of Occupied Territories and Displaced Persons Gyorgiy Tuka told Hromadske. Currently, people injured in the attacks are given a fixed sum for injury or disability benefits. Even the law approved for benefits and compensations for military personnel and displaced persons does not work in practice:

“In the local budgets of the Donetsk and Luhansk Civil-Military Administrations there is enough money, because everything else depends on how they work. Now there is only law #4550, according to which combatants and displaced persons who wish to take credit for their homes receive 50% of the benefits. People already began massively calling us, but so far this law isn’t provided for in the financial terms of the budget.”

The Ministry is currently working on two projects. The first is in conjunction with the Ministry of Health. It will work out a mechanism that will register children born in occupied territories in Ukrainian-controlled territories. The second, related to anti-mining efforts, is to develop a mechanism for compensating civilians affected by explosive devices.

So far these benefits are only for military personnel. Russia is supposed to pay for the rest and Ukraine is fighting against them in international courts. However, these courts can take years and to force an aggressor-state to pay while a war is going on isn't easy. The Ministry said that now we can only hope for help from international organizations, but this process is also slow:

“We have now started cooperation with the German bank KfW. There are no more donors. I met with representatives from the EU who deemed our cooperation with KfW appropriate and efficient, based on a high level of confidence in the German state bank, the EU’s financial institutions agreed to join. But in my estimation and the estimates on the German side, the first real financial income can only come at the beginning of 2018,” said the Deputy Minister.

The civilian population in the combat zone is completely unprotected–noted the office of the Parliamentary Commissioner for Human Rights. In an interview with Hromadske, Valerya Lutkovska said that the office, government officials and human rights activists are looking for a mechanism that would operate immediately not “sometime later”:

“The position of many of the authorities, unfortunately, is let’s finish the anti-terrorist operation and then we’ll understand everything. We’ll close all criminal proceedings, the victims will be found and they can get help. Too many “ifs”. It is necessary to develop this mechanism today and to write it. But even the position of human rights activists has fractured, because there are those who want all the losses, all the moral damage to be but on the aggressor-state, and there are others who are seeking an immediate mechanism for compensation from Ukraine, and appeal for recourse to a suit against the Russian Federation later.”

Meanwhile, the Ukrainian side of the Joint Centre for Monitoring and Coordination of the Ceasefire has reported an increased number of shelling of civilian targets in the past week. They shelled a mansion, gas pipelines, outbuildings and local residents of Marinka, Krasnohorivska, Chermalyk, Volnovakha and Novoluhanske. The OSCE monitoring mission in Ukraine reported cease-fire violations as 75% more frequent in May compared to the “Easter Truce” in April and reported the return of heavy weapons to the front line. Observers recorded “numerous civilian casualties on both sides of the contact line, in which five were killed and four were wounded.”

/Translated by Sofia Fedeczko & Eilish Hart