Summer is here: Time to buy coal

For most of us, summer is time to think about vacation and buy something fashionable at seasonal sales. For conflict-affected people in eastern Ukraine, however, it is time to think about next winter and to purchase coal well in advance of the cold season, when the temperature will drop below -20 C°.

One such individual is Katya, a single mother of two from Toretsk, Donetsk Region. Her shabby house is located only five kilometres from the contact line separating the two conflict sides. Bought several years ago for a little more than USD 230, she says it took her a long time to save this money. After the outbreak of the conflict in 2014, Toretsk was almost completely cut off from the main road system, resulting in prices for food and commodities at least 20 per cent higher than elsewhere.

Currently, Katya’s monthly income is about USD 200, stemming from social benefits that she receives for her two children. These payments are occasionally suspended, until social services reconfirm the status of the family, so sometimes Katya has no income for up to three months. So it was this spring when Katya received cash assistance from IOM, the UN Migration Agency. “Your aid came just in time. I was able to buy food and clothing I needed for my children,” she says.

Katya says it is very cold in her house in the winter. She had to close two out of three rooms, with the family staying in the remaining one. The stove can keep the house warm only for four hours maximum, at which time Katya needs to heat it again. Cooking and warm water also completely depend on the stove.

Early this summer Katya started buying coal in order to have some stock. It costs UAH 90 (USD 3.5) per package and in winter about five coal packages will be needed per week to heat the house. This will cost about USD 70 per month, or approximately one-third of Katya’s income.

While we talk to Katya, her infant baby sleeps in another room and her elder son Sergey charmingly smiles at us. “I am a waitress by education. When my children will grow a little bit, I will enroll them in kindergarten and find a job in order to better provide for my family,” says Katya.

Many towns in the Donbas lacked their own central heating system even before the conflict. For over four years now, the armed conflict in eastern Ukraine forces millions of civilians to make impossible choices, such as whether they eat, have medicine, or purchase fuel. Critical civilian infrastructure is severely impacted as ceasefire agreements are consistently disregarded. Over 600,000 people, including 100,000 children, bear the brunt of continuous armed clashes along the 457-km contact line.

IOM, funded by the U.S. Department of State Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration (PRM), has been providing multipurpose cash assistance to the most vulnerable residents of the areas along the contact line: single mothers like Katya, families with many children, elderly people and people with disabilities. From January to June this year, over 4,600 people received cash aid from IOM. According to beneficiaries, most of the money was spent on healthcare, food, and winterization, as well as on savings in order to buy coal and wood in winter.

While the Humanitarian Response Plan in 2017 was funded to the tune of 37 per cent, 26 per cent of the total requirements of the plan has been covered as of early July 2018. The international community’s support remains vital to fund urgently required assistance and protection activities for millions of conflict-affected Ukrainians