Two years have elapsed since the lives of the Ukrainian people were irrevocably altered. Over the course of 731 days, they have weathered the storm of unyielding military action, including shelling, rockets, combat, and enduring shortages of vital resources. From the first days of the war, AFEW immediately mobilized all resources to aid Ukrainians who suffered. Together with our partner AFEW Ukraine, we worked to improve the resilience of communities and address the negative consequences of the crisis in Ukraine and the implications for the entire region.

We talked to Elena Voskresenskaya, who heads AFEW Ukraine, about how the organization kept going in the time of war, what were the main problems they faced, and how they dealt with them.

Our biggest achievement? We survived and continue working to help those who are in need!

The main success of AFEW Ukraine was that we managed to keep the organization and staff working, expanding our activities and starting new projects to respond to new emerging challenges. We had to quickly change our mode of operation adjusting to war conditions and new problems. Most of AFEW Ukraine projects, since the war began, have been reformatted, and new projects were focused on emergency response.  In 2021 we started working with PACT and FHI 360 on a project Community Action for HIV Control, funded by USAID. AFEW Ukraine role in the project is to strengthen communities’ engagement in HIV response and create an enabling policy environment in the regions of Ukraine. Right before the war, we started assessing the barriers to HIV services in several regions of Ukraine. But when the war started, this was not relevant any more, and our team  started monitoring of HIV services availability in the regions, as often there were great difficulties in accessing life-saving antiretroval therapy,  substitution treatment and other services for key populations in the regions closer to war zone. As the situation evolved, we started focusing on quality of services. As of today, 19 monitors from key populations regularly monitor quality of services and access to them in 27 cities of Ukraine. We also continue our work with youth from key populations .  This has been AFEW Ukraine main programmatic direction since 2010. Currently in 5 regions of Ukraine we are maintaining services for adolescents who use drugs and their sexual partners. This became possible due to the support of our long-term donor who resumed its work for Ukraine with the start of war – Expertise France, L’Initiative.  Since January 2023  we are working with our partners in Kharkiv, Kyiv, Kropivnitsky, Chernivtsy and Slavyank on the project “Emergency support of HIV and SRHR services for adolescents who use drugs in war and post-war times in Ukraine”. In addition to direct services for youth at risk and their sexual partners, the project to provide humanitarian aid, equip service location with generators and heating equipment so that the services for youth do not stop. This is very important both for adolescents who’ve had to leave dangerous areas because of the war as well for those who are staying in the areas near the war zone. We are very proud of our partners who are committed to work in very difficult conditions, especially in Donetsk and Kharkiv regions. These activities are very much in need, as the war may increase risk-taking behaviour of young people and they even more need youth–friendly sexual and reproductive health services, psychosocial support, as well as specialized mental health care.

Helping out in a crisis

Since the war began, AFEW Ukraine started giving out humanitarian aid. From April 2022, with the support of Giro555 initiative and in partnership with Doctors of the World Netherlands we are working to supply community-based organizations and medical institutions in the areas that suffer most from the war with medicines and medical supplies. AFEW is collecting information from the regions about urgent needs, Doctors of the World NL procure and deliver necessary medications to Lviv, and we further distribute the medications and supplies to local organizations, making sure they reach their final destination. Only in 2023 we supported 13 community-based organizations and 20 healthcare facilities with necessary supplies. In 2024 we expanded our collaboration with  Médecins du Monde (MDM) and joined the project “Improving access to quality primary health care for conflict-affected population in Ukraine” implemented by MDM Switzerland, Germany, Spain and Netherlands. AFEW Ukraine role is to monitor the needs and gaps of key populations in relation to primary health care and sensitise humanitarian aid workers working at MDM mobile teams to the needs of people affected by HIV.

Life during a war

Living through a war is tough. The war created a new reality for all of us.  You have to be ready to adapt to changes fast, adjust your work schedule and, most importantly, keep everyone safe. Our main goal now is to continue supporting key populations in Ukraine, adjusting our activities to changing needs, and specifically addressing the safety and mental health of staff and our partners.  In the war time, it is very important to include burnout prevention activities in our work. Sometimes the possibility to relax and informally communicate with colleagues from other cities added to a training session can make a huge difference. Long-term planning is difficult due to the uncertainty of the situation, but we never stop dreaming, planning and working to support those who need it the most.

Yuliya van Polanen, Director of AFEW International:

When AFEW Partnership unites, we achieve greater outcomes than we could alone. With a great understanding of local contexts and needs, our joint work transcends boundaries, bridging East and West to create significant changes in the communities we serve. I am grateful to the AFEW International partner – AFEW Ukraine for their dedication and commitment. Together, we’re not just making a difference; we’re transforming lives, breaking down barriers, and building a brighter future for all.

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