The “Road map” for de-ocupied communities

With the support of the Dutch NGO “PAX”

While developing the roadmap, we tried to stick to particular examples from people working in the de-occupied communities. We are not a humanitarian organization, so our focus was predominantly aimed at the conflict component and the restoration of the social capital of the de-occupied communities.

We are aware that there cannot be universal tools or instructions for working with de-occupied communities. There can only be suggestions or examples. This is caused by the fact that communities are very different from each other. The level of development before the occupation, the level of destruction or repression carried out by the Russian occupiers, the availability of resources, primarily human, the size of the community itself, the number of settlements included in it, the region in which it is located, etc.

The main principle is working with the community, and it is important not to consider any category of community residents in isolation from the general idea of helping the community as a whole.

We advise everyone in their activities to be guided by the principles and methodology specified in Do Not Harm.

The entire period of work with de-occupied communities can be divided into 3 stages.

Each of the stages has its own special goals and implementation conditions. And although they can often be inseparable from each other, understanding the exact stage the community is at the moment can help determine priority activities for the restoration of this community.

The first stage actually occurs immediately after the liberation. When hostilities stop and the community “returns to Ukrainian society.” At this stage, the most important thing is to restore physical safety. This includes both demining measures and evacuation of people from the settlement, emergency medical assistance, and provision of drinking water and food (to prevent famine).

As practice shows, the main actor here is the military. They provide first aid, help evacuate people, ensure their overall safety, and share food and drinking water.

Volunteers bringing provisions and medicine, as well as volunteers evacuating people, often gain access to de-occupied communities at this stage as well.  The ideal option would be the cooperation of volunteers, the military, and the local population. Since this requires close coordination in obtaining up-to-date information about urgent needs in the community and helping the residents in being prepared (for example: for evacuation).

From the first days of liberation, it is necessary to promote the recording of war crimes committed by the occupiers in every possible way.

At this stage, it is important to cover urgent needs as soon as possible. As a rule, systemic action is almost impossible. Humanitarian aid is provided chaotically: in unexpected, often different places and times. Far from always meeting the needs, but rather meeting the abilities of the volunteers themselves. This is inevitable because it is necessary to urgently provide a sufficient amount of the necessary goods in order to avoid crises. The time that will be spent on researching the needs of the de-occupied community may become critical.

It is important for the rules for accessing the community to be clear. Both for volunteers and public organizations, and for the mobility of the local population. This task is rather for regional administrations. We consider the experience of the Kharkiv region to be quite effective, where a coordination center was created where one can get a pass that is valid for 24 hours. They also created a chat where volunteers and other interested persons exchange information about needs, opportunities, and events in communities.

At this stage, volunteers can look for contact persons in the communities through whom it is possible to further explore the needs of the community, coordinate activities on the ground and promptly respond to challenges, receive feedback, and adapt activities.

The second stage consists in restoring the human security of the community.

Restoration of human security: this is the beginning of the work of all relevant institutions: the police, the State Emergency Service, hospitals, bank departments (and other institutions where one can withdraw cash from cards), etc. This will create prerequisites for the return of entrepreneurs and specialists who will provide appropriate services to the community. A sense of security is what will guide people in returning and resuming their activities in the community. This applies not only to physical security (protection against robberies, looting, and violence, although this is certainly a component of human security) but also to predictability and availability of necessary services, such as mobile communication, the Internet, and the ability to withdraw cash or pay by card.

Thus, the rotation of Territorial defense units at facilities important for the functioning of the community (such as gas stations, bank units/ATMs, first shops, etc.) will create a sense of legality and security. The appearance of the police on the streets, at least passing through, will have a similar effect.

At this stage, it becomes possible to collect information about the needs of both individual residents and the community as a whole. The main role will be played by representatives of local authorities and military administrations. The ability to use direct communication with representatives of local institutions (medicine, education, utility companies, etc.) and connections with local self-government bodies (deputies, street/neighborhoods guards, etc.) will allow monitoring the widest range of needs and transferring them to actors who will be able to satisfy these needs partially or completely.

Creating a consolidated list of community needs for recovery will help avoid duplication or omission of specific needs. Having a clear list of what is needed for the community, which will indicate the relevance/rank/priority of what is needed and their approximate estimates, including the cost, community representatives will have the opportunity to contact donors for specific assistance, and donors will have the opportunity to choose what exactly they can help this community with.

Undoubtedly, during this period, all destruction and damage must be recorded. This is a huge scope of work that will continue long after the second stage, but it should begin as soon as possible. Many people will seek and have the right to restore their property themselves without waiting for compensation. But in the future, this will become a reason for many resource conflicts and speculations around matters of justice.

The chaotic distribution of humanitarian aid should be avoided. This embraces several aspects. Humanitarian aid goes to the most active recipients, which creates a sense of injustice in others. For some people, this turns the search for humanitarian aid into a separate activity that takes up all their free time. Often this leads to the creation of a crowd around the places of distribution of humanitarian aid, which, in turn, creates danger, especially in communities located within the zone of possible shelling.

The systematicity of humanitarian aid (on a certain day, at a certain time, or a certain amount in a certain place) creates a sense of predictability and safety. This will help to avoid a constant load on humanitarian aid distribution points when people come there hoping to “stumble upon” a new wave of humanitarian aid. And it will relieve the population of stress associated with the permanent “seeking of help” as the main activity.

Humanitarian hubs have shown their effectiveness.

A humanitarian hub is a place where humanitarian aid from different organizations can be directed for coordinated distribution to beneficiaries. Such hubs usually have the sufficient institutional capacity to keep track of needs and beneficiaries and can communicate with both beneficiaries and other local actors.

It is most effective to distribute humanitarian aid through local hubs on a territorial basis. The place should be familiar and recognizable to local beneficiaries. Educational and administrative institutions are best suited. Institutions that used to be employed as polling stations, etc.

(We had examples when the humanitarian hub was half a kilometer from the market, where aid recipients often gathered. But people did not know about the existence of that hub, because it was located in an industrial zone and, accordingly, people did not reach there)

To avoid an imbalance in the receipt of humanitarian aid, when it is received by the most active beneficiaries who have enough time and energy to appear first, wait in lines, etc., local self-organization groups, such as the institute of the street or neighborhood guard groups, can be used. They can collect information about needs and deliver it to the addressee. In such a way crowds do not gather near the premises of humanitarian hubs (an important security issue) and which allows covering the maximum possible number of them in a controlled manner. This will increase the credibility of humanitarian programs and help restore trust in society.  The process of providing aid itself will become more controlled.

But such an approach requires much greater coordination and capacity from humanitarian hubs. Humanitarian programs should not create a sense of injustice (when someone received it and others did not have enough, for example). This may work in the opposite – it will only create unnecessary tension in an already affected society. Coordination of actions of local authorities with other external and local actors should play a decisive role. For greater coverage, responsibility for certain groups or locations can be distributed among different actors. Accordingly, the more there are, the greater the coverage should be. It is worth paying attention to capable: religious organizations, public organizations, associations, socially responsible businesses, etc. This is a complex process when the centralization of humanitarian aid becomes an effective tool in covering the needs of the entire community, and on the other hand, decentralization, where the greater the number of actors involved, the more diverse and high-quality assistance the community will receive.

The work of capable religious organizations in de-occupied communities can be represented in several dimensions. Religious organizations can function as humanitarian hubs. Another dimension is the provision of psychological/spiritual support. Religious organizations as a safe space for gathering and communication in communities. The church as an institution creates a sense of justice in the distribution of aid. Religious organizations at the same level as local authorities are able to involve community residents in socially useful services. Some of the religious organizations that continued to work under the conditions of temporary occupation acquired social capital and can become a kind of bridge in the restoration of social unity between those who remained in the occupation and those who return to the de-occupied communities.

It is desirable for the hubs to be capable of covering urgent needs for drinking water, the ability to recharge gadgets and provide communication services, pre-medical care, and medicines. This is the minimum set for a de-occupied community.

As a counterweight to the positives of humanitarian aid, we will also describe some problems, in addition to above mentioned. For instance not taking into account the context and needs. This can be described by the expression “Better no help than this”. For example: when grocery sets with unfamiliar types of food are provided. Or when a repair kit is provided that totally does not meet the needs. Or providing children’s hygiene products to a community that currently has no children. People tend to take such help, but their attitude towards the program itself becomes at least ambivalent. A dissonance shows up – they received help, but the need has not disappeared. That is why it is crucial to pay maximum attention at this stage to the issue of gathering information about the needs of the community. Humanitarian organizations permanently working in the field respond more effectively to changing needs than those working by visits.

However, not everything has to look like humanitarian aid. Natural humanitarian aid covers only part of the needs, and in a fairly standard way. Wide provision of humanitarian aid necessarily slows down the economy in communities. Even if entrepreneurs resume their activities, the population’s availability of a large number of products and related goods received for free becomes an obstacle to recovery. An intermediate stage in this is the introduction of the practice of providing cash grants. To restore a sense of control over one’s own life and a sense of one’s own dignity, it is worth creating programs in which there will be an opportunity to earn money. For this, you can use public works that will be safe for program participants and useful for the community. It can be a community cleanup. Restoration of infrastructure facilities, etc. Volunteering to provide assistance to less mobile segments of the population, etc. In this way, the identification of a person with the community will increase, and the development of the community will be felt as one’s own property.

Already in the second stage, it is essential to restore the information infrastructure of the community. If at the first stage, it was the restoration of the possibility of communication with the “big land”, then at the second stage it should be the full restoration of access to radio and television, the printed press. The restored community must return to the Ukrainian information context. It can be a local radio station. Loudspeakers in the center of a settlement or crowded places. There may be informational newspapers/postcards/booklets/etc that can be handed out and distributed along with humanitarian aid. Informing through the specified channels should relate to all-Ukrainian issues as well as purely local information: where to get help, electricity/water outage schedules, where to get additional information, the expected time of restoration of work of institutions, enterprises, etc., as well as to convey the importance of psychological support. Telegram channels, Viber groups, and others will also be useful for notifications (provided the Internet is available).

One of the acute conflict issues in the de-occupied communities will be the issue of justice, the basis of which will be loyalty/disloyalty to the occupiers. This point of conflict rather requires a willingness to work in a society where this problem will be acute (even in the form of direct open conflicts).

It is important to first make assistance to the community systematic and transfer it to the category of rather support, and only then emphasize development.

Regardless of the key importance of paying attention to the issues of restoring human security in communities, humanitarian aid, work with information, and the return of de-occupied communities to the Ukrainian information field, as well as all the other components mentioned above, the second stage should begin with the provision of psychological support in communities.

The third stage: restoration of dignity and social connections / social cohesion

There is currently no experience with the implementation of the third stage, so we rely on general ideas and experience of the events of 2014-2016. Therefore, we will not describe in detail all possible directions, but only those that were highly disputed in our discussions.

First of all, this is work with the future. If now even the expert environment undertakes to make forecasts for 3 months ahead, then the normalization of the life of the community will be a conversation about the five- to ten-year future. And it should be based on specific plans, which, in turn, should be based on an assessment of the needs and development prospects of the territories.

Attracting resources for community reconstruction will be a separate line of activities. And in such a case it is important to understand that this is not only about state institutions and infrastructure but about the entire range of possible services, including the labor market. For this, communities need to master work with grants, fundraising, etc.

The main support at this stage should be aimed at the middle class, which is most capable of creating and strengthening social capital in the community. These can be grants, assistance programs, and other initiatives. Success stories should be demonstrated as success stories of the community as a whole.

Working with collective memory. Experience of occupation, glorification of resistance, glorification of local militarists and activists, refusal from collaboration. Exchange of life experience in occupation and relocation. Strengthening the sense of local identity due to different experiences of experiencing a tragedy. Documenting and researching the stories of people and the context they were in before the war, during the occupation, and after liberation. Working with recognition, preserving the brand of communities, which they acquired during the period of occupation or active military operations. An important aspect of working with collective memory involves working externally, i.e. involving foreign partners to represent the experience of communities’ struggle for democratic values at the local level. The mechanics of the processes can be completely different (from interviewing to creating expositions and exhibitions).

Support of local leaders and development of democratic procedures. The maximum number of actors should be involved in the restoration If, at the first stage, strict centralization can become a tool for overcoming extreme situations (approaching the frontline, disasters, etc.), then at the second and third stages, the restoration of democratic institutions and procedures takes the central stage. First of all, this concerns the full functioning of local self-government. Transparency and accountability of processes will increase trust in de-occupied communities and contribute to their development.

Work on the restoration of human capital. For example, there is an idea about shortened courses for obtaining a certain qualification/profession that is in demand in the community. Support of territorial mobility, so that a person who decides to change their place of residence/work/activity has sufficient support from communities.

The authors

Igor Semyvolos

Sergiy Danylov

Дмитро Звонок

Oleksandr Kobets

Oksana Silyukova

Olena Nizhelska

Translator – Lana Koval

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