Lyudmila Shabanova says she has been forgotten by her own government. When she and her husband fled the “living hell” of Ukraine’s battle with Russian-backed separatist rebels in the town of Avdiivka, she cursed the rebels and blamed Putin for the destruction of her city.
Now in the comparative safety of the government-controlled town of Sviatohirsk, she berated the Ukrainian government for failing to support her and her family. She described how she had to abandon her home, her eyes shining with tears: “The last feeling I remember was the sensation of the shell crashing through a wall. We lived on the upper floor. Everything – the ceiling, the roof, the windows – was destroyed.”
Ms Shabanova is one of around a million Ukrainians who have become refugees in their own country since the fighting began last April. Some have fled to safer areas of Ukraine, while others have relocated just a few miles from the battleground. Traumatised and impoverished, they have found little assistance.
Ukraine crisis: A timeline of the conflict
Ukraine crisis: A timeline of the conflict
1/22 30 November 2013
Public support grows for the “Euromaidan” anti-government protesters in Kiev demonstrating against Yanukovych’s refusal to sign the EU Association Agreement as images of them injured by police crackdown spread.
2/22 20 February 2014
Kiev sees its worst day of violence for almost 70 years as at least 88 people are killed in 48 hours, with uniformed snipers shooting at protesters from rooftops.
3/22 22 February 2014
Yanukovych flees the country after protest leaders and politicians agree to form a new government and hold elections. The imprisoned former Prime Minister, Yulia Tymoshenko, is freed from prison and protesters take control of Presidential administration buildings, including Mr Yanukovych's residence.
Genya Savilov/AFP/Getty Imageses
4/22 27 February 2014
Pro-Russian militias seize government buildings in Crimea and the new Ukrainian government vows to prevent the country breaking up as the Crimean Parliament sets a referendum on secession from Ukraine in May.
Sean Gallup/Getty Images
5/22 16 March 2014
Crimea votes overwhelmingly to secede from Ukraine and join Russia in a ballot condemned by the US and Europe as illegal. Russian troops had moved into the peninsula weeks before after pro-Russian separatists occupied buildings.
6/22 6 April 2014
Pro-Russian rebels seize government buildings in the eastern cities of Donetsk, Luhansk and Kharkiv, calling for a referendum on independence and claiming independent republic. Ukraine authorities regain control of Kharkiv buildings on 8 April after launching an “anti-terror operation” but the rest remain out of their control.
7/22 7 June 2014
Petro Poroshenko is sworn in as Ukraine's president, calling on separatists to lay down their arms and end the fighting and later orders the creation of humanitarian corridors, since violated, to allow civilians to flee war zones.
8/22 27 June 2014
The EU signs an association agreement with Ukraine, along with Georgia and Moldova, eight months after protests over the abandonment of the deal sparked the crisis.
LOUISA GOULIAMAKI/AFP/Getty Images
9/22 17 July 2014
Malaysian Airlines flight MH17 is shot down over eastern Ukraine, killing all 298 people on board. Ukrainian intelligence officials claim it was hit by rebels using a Buk surface-to-air launcher in an apparent accident.
10/22 22 August 2014
A Russian aid convoy of more than 100 lorries enters eastern Ukraine and makes drop in rebel-controlled Luhansk without Government permission, sparking allegations of a “direct violation of international law”.
11/22 29 August 2014
Nato releases satellite images appearing to show Russian soldiers, artillery and armoured vehicles engaged in military operations in eastern Ukraine.
12/22 8 September 2014
Russia warns that it could block flights through its airspace if the EU goes ahead with new sanctions over the ongoing crisis and conflict
13/22 17 September 2014
Despite the cease-fire and a law passed by the Ukrainian parliament on Tuesday granting greater autonomy to rebel-held parts of the east, civilian casualties continued to rise, adding to the estimated 3,000 people killed
14/22 16 November 2014
The fragile ceasefire gives way to an increased wave of military activity as artillery fire continues to rock the eastern Ukraine's pro-Russian rebel bastion of Donetsk
15/22 26 December 2014
A new round of ceasefire talks, scheduled on neutral ground in the Belariusian capital Minsk, are called off
16/22 12 January 2015
Soldiers in Debaltseve were forced to prepare heavy defences around the city; despite a brief respite to the fighting in eastern Ukraine, hostilities in Donetsk resumed at a level not seen since September 2014
17/22 21 January 2015
13 people are killed during shelling of bus in the rebel-held city of Donetsk
18/22 24 January 2015
Ten people were killed after pro-Russian separatists bombarded the east Ukrainian port city of Mariupol
19/22 2 February 2015
There was a dangerous shift in tempo as rebels bolstered troop numbers against government forces
20/22 11 February 2015
European leaders meet in Minsk and agree on a ceasefire in eastern Ukraine beginning on February 14. From left to right: Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko, Russian President Vladimir Putin, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, France's President Francois Hollande and Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko.
MAXIM MALINOVSKY | AFP | Getty Images
21/22 13 February 2015
Pro-Russian rebels in the city of Gorlivka, in the Donetsk region, fire missiles at Ukrainian forces in Debaltseve. Fighting continued in Debaltseve for a number of days after the Minsk ceasefire began.
ANDREY BORODULIN | AFP | Getty Images
22/22 18 February 2015
Ukrainian soldiers repair the bullet-shattered windshield of their truck as their withdraw from the strategic town of Debaltseve. Following intense shelling from pro-Russian rebels, Ukrainian forces began to leave the town in the early hours of February 18.
Brendan Hoffman | Getty Images
While the conflict has slowed in recent weeks, with a ceasefire still technically in force, casualties are reported almost daily. The government and rebel leaders have accused each other of intensifying attacks in recent days around the airport at rebel-held Donetsk.
In government-controlled areas, according to both international aid-workers and struggling internally displaced people (IDPs), Ukraine’s bureaucracy is strangling efforts to provide those in need with care.
A recent report released by the Ukrainian Ministry of Social Policy stated that the government provides monthly financial assistance to displaced people: “884 hryvnas (£25) for disabled people and 442 hryvnas (£12) for able-bodied people.” Only those who seek refuge in territory controlled by the Ukrainian authorities are eligible and many people wait weeks, if not months, for payments to be processed.
Yelena Guseva, a 36-year-old with five children, displayed the stack of paperwork needed to officially register as an IDP with the Ukrainian government.
“I had to wait two weeks for a single stamp,” she said. “We are still waiting for the complete certification to arrive. Until then, we have no money and no future.”
With a fragile system of support in place, IDPs are dependent on the efforts of local volunteers and Western aid organisations.
At one such initiative hundreds of refugees waited patiently for its doors to open, the queue winding around the side of the building. Antonina Popova wept as she was handed bags heavy with buckwheat and potatoes.
“There are no words, I can only say thank you,” she said. “I have nothing left. I have no family and there is no one to care for me.”
Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) is one of the few aid organisations able to access both sides of the conflict. Andreas Koutepas, an MSF project coordinator based in Artemivsk, says that Ukraine’s stifling bureaucracy – difficult even in peacetime – is delaying MSF operations. Along with other organisations in the area, MSF finds it difficult to import drugs and medical materials. The consequent pressure on their supply chain is immense.
“The documentation we need to move drugs from one place to another, to purchase drugs locally, all of these administrative procedures are very complicated and take a lot of time,” he said.
Pavlo Rozenko, Ukraine’s minister of social policy, said the “state of war” meant the government could not “provide each individual with a comfortable, separate housing allowance”. He said it was “doing everything in its power” and that payments to IDPs, as well as pensions and financial assistance, were received “on time and in full”.
“There are lots of problems,” he said. “Ukraine is on the brink of a humanitarian catastrophe. We need help, but we are doing a lot ourselves.”Reuse content