“It is a real disaster. For almost a year, we have been living without access to clean drinking water”, says Natalia from the city of Mykolaiv in southern Ukraine. Since April 2022, about 300,000 remaining residents have been facing a water crisis after a pipeline connecting the city to Dnipro River in the neighbouring Kherson Region was damaged by shelling. The city officials were forced to pump yellowish, salty water from the Southern Buh River estuary. Though the authorities installed many wells and equipped points where residents can access drinkable water, the water crisis remains acute.
“My family is buying at least 30 litres of drinking water per week. There are special stores that sell it for a reduced price of two hryvnias (five USD cents) per litre. Elderly people and those who cannot afford to buy water, are provided with limited free supplies and have to queue at the distribution points. Tap water is harmful for my skin, hair and teeth. Worst of all, the salty water ruins all home appliances and the entire water system in the city, causing corrosion in the old pipes”, Natalia explains.
The authorities of Mykolaivvodokanal, the main water utility, acknowledged that the whole system will eventually need to be replaced at a huge cost for the city.
“Our main task is to preserve the system at this critical moment and maintain the centralized water supplies. The degradation of the wastewater management system poses a very serious problem,” said Borys Dudenko, director of Mykolaivvodokanal. “Concrete collectors are being damaged by the salt water that might cause leakages and further contamination of the area. The water supply network in Mykolaiv includes 1,200 kilometres of pumps and the sewage system runs for 800 kilometres. The delayed effect of this crisis may lead to the sewage system being completely damaged.”
Each week emergency services in the city repair new leaks in the pipes. To support these works, IOM provided Mykolaivvodokanal with 2,000 tons of sand now being used at the sites. The assistance to the city also included installing a new Reverse Osmosis (RO) system in the main facility of the water company, providing new pipes and generators, drilling new boreholes and installing new pumps for various critical facilities, including the Central Heating Plant (CHP) and the Mykolaiv Regional Blood Centre. In addition, IOM is supporting more than 40 boreholes in rural areas across the region, with specialized equipment to sustain their functionality and provide safe water in hard-to-reach locations.
Water, wastewater and heating systems in Ukraine are facing continuous damage as a result of the ongoing war, suffering from direct shelling of infrastructure and frequent power outages which have impacted access to vital services. During a harsh Ukrainian winter, thousands of people faced cuts in water and heating supplies, resulting in freezing temperatures.
The centralization of water and heating systems is common in Ukraine. Water and heat are delivered from municipal plants to homes, schools, hospitals, and other critical infrastructure. The delivery mechanism is currently dependent on power plants that are often the target of air strikes. The result of one targeted missile is far-reaching and disables the water supply for hundreds of thousands of people. Therefore, the development of a localized power supply is critical to building resilience and ensuring adequate water and heat for Ukraine’s most vulnerable populations.
In the past months, IOM has delivered 295 generators to critical facilities in Ukraine. Altogether they have improved services in 21 regions. An additional 295 generators are ready to be delivered. The generators will be vital in powering public facilities during blackouts, enabling stable services for people.
The Russian military attacks against Ukraine’s essential infrastructure are not the only reason for the challenging state of water and wastewater systems. Strucutres have also been running with aging equipment that has not been upgraded for several decades. Aiming to modernize their operations, IOM installs new pumps and integrates modern technologies to make the systems sustainable and energy-efficient in the long term, supporting resilience and promoting early recovery.
“We are fighting our own battle, working to defend the well-being of host and displaced communities,” says Stanislav Kartashov, the director of vodokanal in Uzhhorod in the western Zakarpattia Region. “Since the start of the full-scale war, the population of the city increased three times — from about 10,000 to over 30,000 people. The system operates under intense pressure and requires upgrading the pumps that have been used for 15 years.”
The facility is now in the process of installing powerful sewage pumps that have been provided by IOM, capable of filtering up to 500 m³ per hour.
Since the start of the full-scale war, IOM has been supporting about 50 water and heating facilities in 21 regions of Ukraine, helping to restore, sustain and modernize their operation, while continuing the distribution of hygiene and emergency water supplies and has so far reached over 2 million individuals.
IOM’s assistance to critical infrastructure in Ukraine is provided with generous funding from the European Union, the Government of Canada, the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) of the United Kingdom, the Government of Denmark, the German Federal Foreign Office (GFFO), the German Federal Agency for Technical Relief (THW), USAID’s Bureau for Humanitarian Assistance, and the Ukraine Humanitarian Fund (UHF).