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Triinu Ossinovski: Military Assistance Alone is Not Enough to Win This War




“Military assistance alone is not enough to win this war. The type of aid provided must be much more diverse in order to meet Ukraine’s growing and evolving needs,” writes Triinu Ossinovski, head of humanitarian aid programs at Mondo.

24 August is Ukraine’s Independence Day and marks six months since the start of Russia’s latest aggression against Ukraine, which has, so far, claimed tens of thousands of lives and forced millions of people to flee their homes. Every Ukrainian is suffering in this war, whether directly or indirectly.

It is a long-established truth in the world of humanitarian aid that, after a few months, the public begins to tire of each conflict and humanitarian crisis, no matter how complex and critical, meaning that it is no longer considered newsworthy.

While public attention wanders, suffering continues and usually gets worse.

The same has happened with the war in Ukraine, which is getting less and less attention in European media every day. This gives people the illusion that the situation in Ukraine has stabilised and that the humanitarian crisis has perhaps eased. On the contrary, the humanitarian crisis will reach catastrophic levels this fall.

Cold and Hunger

The coming fall has made humanitarian organisations extremely concerned, as millions of people will be without warm, safe places to shelter. Winters in Ukraine are very cold, similar to ours in Estonia, with temperatures plummeting below minus 20.

Several Ukrainian municipalities and oblasts (regions or provinces, of which there are 24 in Ukraine) have already announced that, this fall and winter, they will be unable to supply hot water to some of their cities due to deliberate Russian attacks on related infrastructure.

In addition to this, thousands of homes have suffered damage to windows, roofs, and walls during the war, meaning people will be unable to keep warm.

These hundreds of thousands of people who remain in their cities and homes will not survive the winter this way. They need help. They need our help.

According to the UNHCR, almost seven million Ukrainians are currently internally displaced, and a further 13 million people are in areas where they are not safe. They are also unable to leave these areas, either due to destroyed roads and bridges or because they simply have nowhere else to go.

The more peaceful areas of Ukraine have taken in millions of people, with every possible free space already occupied. Many are currently staying in schools, kindergartens and other public buildings in western Ukraine. However, this solution will not work in the long term, especially as the number of people in need continues to grow.

A Tough School Year

During every crisis, education takes a hit. Children and young people go months – or in worst case scenarios, years – without school, leaving a heavy price for society to pay. More young people leave school early and levels of despondency and negative coping patterns are all likely to increase. To prevent the emergence of ‘lost generations’ in Ukraine, access to education must be prioritised, even during a time of active war.

The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UN OCHA) estimates that, since the beginning of the war, nearly 5.7 million school-age children and young people have been affected, 3.6 million of whom have had their educational institutions closed due to war. According to the Ukrainian Ministry of Education, 2,300 educational establishments throughout Ukraine have been damaged during the war, 286 of which have been completely destroyed. In addition, one in ten schools and educational institutions are currently closed to teaching, as they are instead being used to house IDPs (internally displaced persons).

Nearly 75 percent of Ukrainian school-age children and young people have been forced to study exclusively online. However, most of them do not have computers or proper internet access. The war has also dispersed a lot of work collectives, making education particularly difficult in many areas.

In Ukraine, the school year starts on 1 September. According to the Ministry of Education, this fall is no exception. However, it will be a very unpredictable and challenging school year. Face-to-face as well as distance and hybrid forms of education will be used. According to Ukrainian Interior Minister Denis Monastyrsky, only 41 percent of the country’s schools will be ready for the upcoming academic year because, among other concerns, new security rules require schools to have increased security systems in place, as well as to provide bomb shelters for pupils in the event of an attack.

Estonia’s Contribution

Added to all of this are growing needs for food aid, psychological support, and healthcare assistance. Understandably, most of Ukraine’s funds are currently being spent on the war effort, with the country unable to provide all the services it typically would during peacetime.

It is extraordinary to see how Estonian people and companies have donated tens of millions of euros to help Ukraine through trusted Estonian organisations. During the first months of the war, we have used this support to assist Ukraine in the most urgent areas of need, including food aid, shelter, psychological and support services, and medical assistance.

The Estonian state has provided Ukraine with a substantial amount of military assistance. However, the same cannot be said for humanitarian aid.

Military aid alone is not enough to win this war. The types of aid given must be much more diverse in order to meet Ukraine’s growing and evolving needs. Not since the Second World War has Europe seen a humanitarian crisis on this scale, and the resources needed to tackle it cannot be placed solely on the shoulders of private donors and businesses. All European countries, including Estonia, need to increase their contributions.

The humanitarian sector is working every day to ensure that the number of lives already lost to this war are not added to by those suffering from cold and hunger.

We are working to ensure that, even if a person no longer has a home to return to or a school to attend, they still have a warm bed, shelter, and the opportunity to study. We are working to ensure that all those who have been wounded, physically and mentally, receive the help they need to overcome their trauma and, one day, rebuild their country.

The wounds of war are deep and complex, and they all need to be addressed and dealt with. Our work is only possible with the support of the Estonian state and people.

Mondo, an Estonian humanitarian organisation, aims to reduce global inequality by focusing on issues related to health education, subsistence, environmental and digital competence programs in partner countries, and global education. Mondo operates in 12 countries abroad in addition to Estonia. You can find out more about Mondo’s activities here.

This article was first published on 24.08.2022 on the ERR portal.