8 May 2018
Over 40,000 residents of Ukraine’s conflict-affected Donbas region will benefit from nine community centres – libraries and cultural centres – renovated by IOM, the UN Migration Agency, with funding from the Government of Japan.
According to the Ministry of Social Policy of Ukraine, approximately 800,000 out of the country’s 1.5 mln officially registered internally displaced persons reside in the Government-controlled area of Donetsk and Luhansk regions. “The significant increase in the number of residents brings additional burden to social infrastructure and may lead to tensions among community members,” explained Dr. Thomas Lothar Weiss, IOM Ukraine’s Chief of Mission. In order to contribute to the integration of IDPs, and promote communication and dialogue between groups within host communities, IOM, with funding from the Government of Japan, has been supporting local-driven initiatives in 29 Donbas communities and renovating public spaces where displaced persons and locals, including people with disabilities, can interact.
One of the locations IOM works in is Toretsk, a mining community in Donetsk Region, with over 70,000 inhabitants, about ten per cent of whom are IDPs. The town is less than ten kilometres from the contact line and the non-government controlled area. In 2014, during the first months of the conflict, Toretsk suffered heavy shelling. The IDPs, mainly from nearby Horlivka, began arriving after July 2014, when the Ukrainian Government regained control over the town. The local library has been serving as an information centre with free Internet and as a place where IDPs seek guidance and support. Now, after the refurbishment done by IOM, the old library transformed completely, having turned into an accessible open space for social cohesion activities organized by the local initiative group. Fifteen initiative group members, half of them locals and half IDPs, have already organized over 50 master classes, concerts, and open air festivals over the last six months.
“Our ground floor lobby, the hall, the conference room, the sanitary unit, the second floor hall and the reading room have been renovated,” Tetiana Scherbakova, director of the library, said proudly. “Winters with heavy frosts used to be a difficult time for us, and now the shabby old windows and entrance doors have been replaced. IOM has installed a 300 litre water tank to ensure there is water in the library even during frequent water supply cuts. Also, now we have an outside ramp allowing access for persons with disabilities.”
The renovated library in Toretsk, as well as the one in Popasna, Luhansk Region, have been recently opened by the Ambassador of Japan in Ukraine, Shigeki Sumi, and IOM Ukraine’s Chief of Mission, Dr. Thomas Lothar Weiss.
The sakura planting ceremony in the main square of the Bakhmut city was the highlight of the Ambassador’s visit to Ukraine’s east. “In solidarity with Ukraine, Japan has been providing humanitarian and economic support to the Donbas communities since the beginning of the conflict. I hope, that every spring, when sakura trees will be blooming, the residents of Bakhmut will enjoy the beautiful flowering and remember the people of Japan,” Ambassador Sumi said.
“IOM has been working in the Donbas, because we care,” said Thomas Weiss. “UN Migration Agency has been able to support communities in eastern Ukraine due to generous donor funding, such as the support received from Japan, and active involvement of all the community members. Despite the proximity to the conflict zone, with their resilience and brilliant ideas, people in Ukraine’s East are multiplying the benefits from the support they receive in order to turn their home towns and cities into a better place for living.”