Vinnytsia — Larysa, together with her assistant Olya and the IOM team, greet people who are arriving to receive humanitarian aid for people displaced from Bakhmut. She knows almost everyone, and everyone knows her, as she has united 2,000 Bakhmut residents in Vinnytsia region into a community that is now overcoming the challenges of internal displacement together and finding support from local authorities and humanitarian organizations.  

In 2014, Bakhmut, a small town in eastern Ukraine, became a frontline town because of the Russian invasion. Larysa, then the deputy head in Bakhmut district administration, managed social protection issues. Her town served as a refuge, hosting people fleeing Donetsk and Luhansk regions:  

"Day and night, we received many people from Debaltseve, Horlivka, from Luhansk direction. They were fleeing without proper clothing, frightened and confused, and we worked to secure their accommodation, providing food and clothing, planning the next steps together," she recalls. Eight years later, she and thousands of Bakhmut residents went through the same experience, now on the side of those who were fleeing from hostilities and in need of assistance.

Larysa talks to fellow Bakhmut residents who came to receive humanitarian aid. Photo: IOM, Maryna Orekhova

In April 2022, Larysa, along with her husband and teenage son, like thousands of other Bakhmut residents, fled the city, leaving behind her entire past life.   

Unable to work and be active as before in her hometown, Larysa was feeling down. However, when acquaintances and friends from Bakhmut started reaching out and seeking help, she realized she had to act. Following the examples of people from Mariupol and Kherson who had set up hubs in Vinnytsia, Larysa set about organizing a hub for Bakhmut residents.  

"I realized that I had nowhere to go back to, I somehow had to create a life here. Many of my compatriots, Bakhmut people who know me, came to me for help. It's impossible to be depressed all the time, you have to do something instead of feeling sorry for yourself, so I decided to create such a centre." 
 

Larysa speaks at the opening of the Bakhmut District Unites Coordination Centre in Vinnytsia, 21 June 2023. Photo: Vinnytsia City Council

The centre received support from the Bakhmut district administration and Vinnytsia authorities provided the premises. Word of mouth quickly spread: as of February 2024 over 1800 people were registered at the centre. These are 858 families, half of which live in Vinnytsia and half in the region. According to Larysa, the number is still growing as people are relocating within the country in search of employment or affordable housing.  

"The people of Vinnytsia are very sympathetic, positive, happy to help, but it is difficult for them to understand us. They still live in their homes, talk to their friends and colleagues, although the war has certainly left its mark on every family. But the fact that they are with their relatives and friends means a lot. IDPs often do not have this opportunity. Relatives, friends, colleagues — the war has scattered them all over the world," says Larysa. She understands her fellow Bakhmut natives, their problems and needs, and tries to find ways to meet them with the help of humanitarian organizations or charities. She is also a member of the Coordination Council for IDPs in Vinnytsia, where she advocates for other displaced people like herself.  

Larysa talks to Bakhmut residents in the hub. Photo: IOM, Maryna Orekhova

IOM, with the funding from USAID's Bureau for Humanitarian Assistance, has been supporting the "Bakhmut District Unites" coordination centre in Vinnytsia since its opening, by providing hygiene and winterization kits, mattresses, blankets, lamps, bed linen sets and kitchen sets. The centre is not only a source of humanitarian aid for IDPs but also an opportunity to meet and socialize with their fellow Bakhmut natives.  

"People get to know each other here because they attend various events together, find people who are close in spirit, go to a theatre, or a seminar. And it's nice that we're not only providing humanitarian aid, which is certainly very important, but we're also helping create a new circle of friends where you can communicate with people who understand you."  

Now, Larysa's life is not as measured and stable as it was before the war. Like thousands of other displaced people, she is struggling to find accommodation, stable income, a school and extracurriculars for her son who continues to study online at the Bakhmut school, which no longer exists physically, as it was destroyed as a result of the hostilities.
 

Larysa and her son in Bakhmut, 2021. Photo: Larysa's home archive

"Although I often have moments of despair and powerlessness, I have to carry on somehow, so I find inner strength through connecting with others.”

Larysa’s resilience stems from helping others. Being able to work helps her keep her head above water. Caring for her family and her son keeps her going, even in the most difficult moments, and she goes on living, rebuilding what she has lost, piece by piece, like pieces of a puzzle, creating a picture of a better future. 

 

 

Before the war, the city of Bakhmut in Donetsk region, was the centre of Ukraine's salt industry and a railway junction, with a population of more than 70,000.    

In 2014, amidst escalating tensions in eastern Ukraine, the city received thousands of displaced people from Donetsk and Luhansk regions. In May 2022, following Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine, Bakhmut has faced severe fighting and sustained extensive damage. Presently, the city remains occupied by Russian forces and is almost completely destroyed. 

SDG 10 - Reduced Inequalities