13:40 19.08.2021

Ukrainians save lives and help people in world's worst disasters

12 min read

On August 19, the world celebrates World Humanitarian Aid Day to honor the selfless work of humanitarian workers who support people affected by the crisis in Ukraine and around the world.

Today, there is not a single continent in the world that is not affected by the conflict, as a result of which people are forced to leave their homes in search of safe haven for themselves and their families. The dynamics of poverty, food insecurity, climate change, conflict and displacement are increasingly interconnected and intensifying, forcing more and more people to seek security and shelter.

The current situation is now called the crisis of the world’s largest forced displacement since World War II, with more than 82 million IDPs by the end of 2020, according to the UNHCR’s Global Trends Report.

Unfortunately, Ukraine is not an exception, with eights year of the armed conflict in the east of the country. Various national and international humanitarian agencies continue to provide vital assistance to the conflict-affected populations, sometimes with casualties among their staff. In 2020 alone, 475 humanitarian workers were attacked globally: 108 killed, 242 wounded and 125 abducted (according to UN data in Ukraine).

In 2014, a humanitarian worker of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) was killed by a shell near the ICRC headquarters in eastern Ukraine. In 2017, an employee of the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission in Ukraine (SMM) was killed and two other SMM members were injured in an explosion that damaged their car near the village of Pryshib in the non-governmental area of Luhansk oblast.

It is important to honor the people who have made the greatest sacrifices to help others, and also to draw the world’s attention to the ongoing conflicts and crises.

According to the United Nations, about 168 million people will need humanitarian assistance and protection this year. This is one person out of 45 worldwide, and this is the highest figure in decades. The UN and partner organizations aim to help the 109 million most vulnerable people, which requires $28.8 billion in funding.

Today, on this special day, UNHCR in Ukraine is proud to present our colleagues who have worked in the world’s worst emergencies. Despite all the difficulties and uncertainties in the new places, our colleagues have devoted themselves to serving those who are fleeing violence, persecution and other dangers that come from both man and nature. South Sudan, Nigeria, Iraq, Chad, the DRC, Rwanda, Afghanistan, Jordan, Djibouti, Myanmar, Libya are just a few of the places where UNHCR staff are helping to save lives, protect the rights, and well-being of refugees, and seek refuge. ways to facilitate situations of forced displacement.

My name is Iryna, and I am a humanitarian worker in UNHCR Ukraine.

I have joined UNHCR in August 2014, when UNHCR started its emergency response to a massive displacement in the East of Ukraine. Most of my functions were linked to protection work. This included communicating with affected people, learning their needs, and providing urgent assistance in the form of basic domestic items, clothes, assistance to repair their damaged homes and heat them in winter. Now I take the post of Assistant Protection Officer in the Mariupol Field Unit.

In December 2019, I was summoned for an emergency mission to the UNHCR operation in the Democratic Republic of Congo to support the field team in Bunia. The first thing to note about DR Congo is that it is a very beautiful land with picturesque nature and various mineral resources. Unfortunately, the population in many regions suffers from acts of violence caused by various militia groups. UNHCR operation in the country is very large and exists for a long time. UNHCR colleagues provide protection to refugees fleeing Burundi, Central Africa, South Sudan, and also to the large number of internally displaced people.

In Bunia, I worked with another great team where we helped the government to relocate several thousands of IDP families from an obsolete IDP settlement to a safer and better-organized site. I helped the team to prioritize the families for relocation, monitor the conditions at the newly established settlement, follow on individual cases with partners (kids’ parents were far away, some people needed medical assistance, some people needed bigger shelters). Along with that, we had to respond to new arrivals of people coming to the city of Bunia and its surrounding areas fleeing violence in their home villages.  Emergency response to displacement was also coupled with urgent planning of new ways of working and assisting people during the Covid-19 pandemic. So, our team had to define support to hygiene in IDP sites and in host communities. We had to rethink our way of work not to expose people to the risks of Covid contraction, which was not an easy job, to be honest.

When I was talking with young girls and boys on the IDP site, I asked them about the biggest problem that they would like to solve. And they immediately replied that they wanted to go to school. Desire to study overrode the wish to play football and do handcrafts. The problem is that education in many schools is not free, parents need to pay fees for the study not to mention the costs associated with the purchase of school clothes and stationery. Many families, especially displaced, cannot afford this. So instead of going to schools, kids start doing small jobs around the communities to help the families earn some income.

The impact of humanitarian work is not always easy to assess. I think the best thing we can do is to listen carefully to the stories of people who need assistance after surviving terrifying events in their lives. Most probably we won’t be able to help soothe the pain and resolve their problems right away. Most certainly, we won’t have the resources to respond to the needs of every single person who comes to us for help. But what we definitely can and should do is to share the stories of these people with those who are in power to help. We can make their voices louder. In IDP operations, UNHCR works closely with multiple actors from various sectors. When our joint work brings positive change to a family or community, it makes me want to keep going in this direction.

My name is Dmytro, and I served in three emergency missions abroad.

I have served in UNHCR since June 2015 in various roles of Senior Protection Assistant, Protection Associate, Security Associate, Assistant Protection Officer, Protection Officer, and Field Officer. Since 2017 after completion of WEM with UNHCR, I was an active participant in almost all Emergency Rosters until the end of 2021. Over this period, I was selected for more than five emergency missions, yet participated only in three of them due to the challenging and demanding operational environment in my field office.

My core responsibilities include but are not limited to mainstreaming protection activities, design and implement projects assisting conflict-affected communities in Donetsk NGCA, leading the Protection Unit in Donetsk field office as for planning, capacity-building of staff and partners, coordination of projects, and assisting the Head of Office with the management of UNHCR field office in Donetsk, where appropriate.

The first time I was deployed was in 2017 to Sudan, White Nile State, Kosti Sub-Office in the capacity of the Field Officer to provide a response to South Sudanese emergency. This included management, supply, creation of a favorable protection environment in 5 refugee camps hosting over 200,000 refugees.

The second mission was in 2019 to Nigeria, the North-Eastern region of Borno State in the capacity of a Protection Officer. The main objective was to re-instate UNHCR leadership in the protection cluster, provide quality coordination protection activities, and respond to humanitarian organizations in Ngala and Banki LGAs (local government areas) that hosted over 300,000 internally displaced persons who fled the violence of Boko Haram.

The third mission was in 2021 to Gadaref, Eastern Sudan to provide a response to Ethiopia Emergency whereas over 60,000 refugees from the Tigray region in Ethiopia fled to Sudan to seek asylum and shelter due to military hostilities in their host country.

My name is Sofiya and in 2021 I supported the UNHCR office in Uganda.

I have joined UNHCR Ukraine in 2015 as a Human Resources staff. In my work I am dealing with people, identifying the most suitable, most qualified to different roles required by UNHCR operation in Ukraine. On top of it, I give daily support to our staff by providing guidance on rules, regulations, entitlements, and obligations formulated by UNHCR headquarters as well as developed locally.


In 2021, I have served in UNHCR Uganda, where I was based in Kampala, for three months. UNHCR in Uganda is one of the largest operations with more than 600 staff. During my mission, I have supported the national staff capacity in the recruitment process as well as provided support to the international staff to ensure compliance with HR policies and procedures.

I have learned a lot during this mission, being on another continent, living in different contexts and cultures, dealing with different people with diverse backgrounds. I’ve gained so much experience in Uganda that I feel confident that I will be able to handle any complex human resources matter.

Being an HR staff, I feel thrilled to be able to contribute in selecting suitable staff who would make their maximum efforts and deliver services to save lives and provide evitable assistance to the most vulnerable persons we serve as UNHCR all over the world.

My name is Vartan. In 2021 I went on a mission to Sudan to support the operation in the Tigray refugee response.

I started my career at UNHCR Ukraine in December 2015 as a Protection Associate. At that time my office based in Kharkiv covered UNHCR activities in Kharkiv and the Northern part of Donetsk oblasts. Later, I was assigned as Assistant Field Officer becoming the head of a small Field Unit in Kharkiv, and finally moved to Sloviansk to concentrate on work at the contact line. Currently, I am the manager of a Field Unit in Sloviansk. Together with my team, we are responsible for the implementation of UNHCR and the overview of partner activities in a specific geographic area. Most of the funds are dedicated to supporting of people residing in areas up to five kilometers away from the contact line in the Northern part of Donetsk oblast. There we mostly provide support in access to services, rehabilitation of public infrastructure, individual case management, and psychosocial support. I also cover IDP integration, durable solutions, especially housing, and legal support issues in the rest of Donetsk, Kharkiv, and Dnipropetrovsk oblasts. In all these areas we conduct advocacy for better solutions, integration, and equal rights for displaced and conflict-affected communities.

In February 2021, I received an email informing me of a mission to Sudan to support the operation in the Tigray refugee response. I arrived at the UNHCR office in Gedaref, the Field Office covering the response in refugee camps set up for Tigray people on 19 March 2021. The mission lasted three months. I worked as the UNHCR focal point for a camp hosting 18,000 people in the middle of nowhere. This means that I coordinated everything in the camp: all partners both UNHCR funded ones and other partners with diverse funding sources, our direct work, communication with the local authorities, and of course engagement with the refugee community. The latter part was the most rewarding since the Tigray people are very resilient and ready to work together with the international community to find better solutions for themselves, they are highly organized and hardworking people.

I remember, one day there was an ad hoc meeting with the refugee community regarding their food rations. There was a teenager who approached me and addressed me through an interpreter. He informed me that he was living with a group of peers in the area of the abandoned hospital in the camp. It surprised me since I knew that the area was very bad, so I decided to check and agreed to meet with him and his peers later this day. When I arrived there with government and international partners, we indeed found out that a group of unaccompanied minors was living there in very bad conditions with no access to food, water, and other basic needs. I requested a partner to provide them with hot food and linked them up with child protection agencies, requesting partners to provide full support while we set up an ad hoc working group that worked on Unaccompanied and separated children issues.

The best thing that motivates me to keep on working in the humanitarian sector is the multitude of individuals having improved in their lives thanks to my and my team’s work. Sometimes it is difficult to see those changes when dealing with a pile of documents that you need to complete, but especially in emergencies you see a challenge, you face it together with the person and you help them solve it and see how they are happy and how their life became a bit (or a lot) easier. That is unique and very rewarding.

Background notes: World Humanitarian Day has been celebrated for 12 years, on 19 August, in honor of the UN Secretary-General’s Special Envoy to Iraq, Sergio Vieira de Mello, and 21 of our colleagues who died that day 19 years ago (in 2003) during the bombing of the UN headquarter in Iraq.

Sergio Vieira de Mello, a native of Brazil, has worked for UNHCR and other UN humanitarian organizations and missions for more than 30 years. The foundation, named after him, proposed the idea of ​​setting up a special day to honor the memory of humanitarian workers who have been killed or injured while doing their job.

Since World Humanitarian Day was first celebrated in 2009, around 100 humanitarian workers have died each year around the world.