A glimpse into life under energy siege

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It’s been 25 years since my parents first set foot in Ukraine to start Care in Action, the team pivoted quickly since the war – helping vulnerable children find safe homes, continue education, and overcome trauma.

For this special feature, I spoke to Maria Boiko, the Director of ‘Turbota V Dii’ – the Ukrainian branch of Germany-based Care in Action.

Like millions of Ukrainians, Maria Boiko’s life was turned upside down at Russia’s shock invasion.

“And a lot has changed since February 24th. We work with children in care and with foster families and vulnerable youth. But within a week of the war starting, we expanded our work to support internally displaced people. Many, many people have come to L’viv since the war, one of the reasons is because it feels safe as it’s the most western part of Ukraine. And the other reason is that it’s a cultural hub, and it has a lot of opportunities.

“From March onwards we started renting out beds in hostels to accommodate people who had to leave their homes. Sometimes we would accommodate 200 people at a time and we added new services for internally displaced people. Because after the shock, the main thing people needed was a secure place and food.

“Many people needed psychological support, because they mentally refuse to believe that the war will last for a while, and they didn’t want to look for a job. Like ‘why would I look for a job. If I’m not going to stay here. I will go home back home soon.’ So we got a psychologist to help people recover. We hired a social worker in July to accompany families to help them with a range of needs, like legal advice, medical treatment, getting needed documents with a certificate of internal displaced person or getting a child into school. Some people decided to emigrate as refugees and we helped them with transfers to the border. We also started a care centre, which provides 20-30 beds for women and children,” says Maria.

What impact have the energy grid attacks had on entrepreneurship and life in Ukraine?

Let’s start with the bigger picture. It’s had a big impact on business, and some businesses had to stop. Others had to learn how to survive, and maybe they had some shortages in the companies or had to raise prices, because now it’s big expense to buy generators or other things to make it work.

And I was reading an article, that one big company which works with in the metallurgy sphere, they had 5,000 employees, and now they have 20.

It is expected that by the end of this year, 30 % of the population will be without work.

We have regular scheduled power cuts. And power cuts often last for four hours – sometimes you can have at least eight hours a day without electricity.

But sometimes there are also emergency power cuts which are unexpected. So sometimes you have 16 hours a day without light, it affects hot water and cooking.

There are some buildings that don’t have a gas supply and they fully depend on electricity, electrical stoves, and heating – so they would not have heating or be able to cook so people come up with alternative solutions like a portable stove.

I guess when there are many children in a family, it’s really difficult to do everything within the four hours of having electricity. A lot of children have long-distance education, and it’s really difficult to keep up with school because of the power cuts – you don’t have WiFi, you don’t have heating.

How has your personal life been affected?

In my personal life, at the office, we are able to work because we always have light. There are some rumours that there is a court office or something important nearby. We have a creative hub with a daycare for children so it’s not affected.

But I live just three minutes walk from here, and we have power cuts and my husband works remotely teaching English so when we have power cuts, he can’t work at all. He would be out of work, but luckily, because we have WiFi at my office at Creative Hub, when there is some space here he comes here.

Our heating depends on the light, we tried to put an electrical heater when there is heating so because the gas heating doesn’t give much warmth. And also we just sleep under a huge warm blanket, so it’s warm under the blanket, but if I just touch the top of my head, I can feel how cold it is.

How have you been supporting people through the winter?

We’ve been providing people with warm blankets, sleeping bags, and camp lights which can last up to 24 hours when there is no light, and it’s really helpful. I use it to cook, read, and when I go to the bathroom or have a shower.
Just this Monday I travelled with a colleague to family-style orphanages to bring a displaced family a generator. A family is starting again here after their home and the hospital and schools were destroyed in Mykolaiv. They don’t intend to go back – there are no prospects for the children with the school completely destroyed.

The Father is an electrician so they made a plan for how to make it work at home with the generator. The generator will help the kids to keep up with their education, because the power cuts impact education a lot, and they have several teenagers. One of the teenagers is taking an English course which will give her access to take part in an exchange programme in the US. So for her it’s also highly important to do that course and learn English, so they were very happy.

What’s the best way for readers to help with donations?

You can check our Care in Action website, and donate via bank card or through Paypal.

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