Photo credit: UNDP Ukraine /Anastasia Vlasova

MARIUPOL, Ukraine – Olga Popova, 69, has survived several cruel blows of fate in recent years.

In 2014, she lost her family business when hundreds of pigs in her farm were killed by shells that hit her village of Chermalyk in Donetsk Oblast during the armed conflict in eastern Ukraine.

In the spring of 2016, she lost her beloved grandson, who was killed when his tractor hit an antitank mine.    

Then in late September 2017, someone set fire to straw stored in her barn for the winter. Olga believes the arsonists might have wanted to harm the Ukrainian soldiers stationed nearby.

But even after all of this, she’s not giving up.

In autumn 2017, Olga came to the Citizens’ Advisory Bureau in Mariupol, asking them to help her find the straw that she badly needed to feed her 350 sheep over the winter.    

“I’ve lost too much to let the lack of 300 tons of straw stop me now,” she said.

Anzhela Zinchenko, the bureau’s case manager, immediately started looking for cheap options all over Ukraine for buying straw. Olga started calling the numbers Zinchenko gave her, and found a good deal.

The 24 officers of the bureau, supported by the UNDP, provide residents of Mariupol and nearby areas affected by the conflict with daily administrative, legal, social and psychological support.

Since June 2014, they have advised over 10,000 residents of the “grey zone” – the area around the contact line – and also 18,000 IDPs who have had to flee their homes because of the conflict. They have also defended them in 400 legal cases.

Earlier, Maryna Pugachova, the bureau’s coordinator, helped Olga prepare an application for a government grant for the development of local farming worth Hr 500,000 (some $19,000). It meant Olga could buy sheep and hire staff for her farm.

Maryna is sure they will be able to help Olga, and people like her again.

“Our aim is to provide all types of support, other than direct humanitarian supplies,” Maryna said.

“We try to help people get back on their feet.”

With financial support from Sweden and Switzerland, UNDP supports five сitizens’ advisory bureaus to support the government in providing administrative, psychological and legal aid to the vulnerable population in the aftermath of the conflict in Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts. The bureaus now cover 28 cities, towns and villages with a combined population of 690,070, including those residing alone the contact line and in the grey zone. In 2017 alone, some 23,000 men and women, including those living close to the contact line, received support through five bureaus.

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