Statement, 24 February 2024

Two years of war in Ukraine

Russian troops invaded Ukraine almost two years ago. Since then, millions of Ukrainians have fled their homeland. In Ukraine itself, a brutal war is raging that has brought untold suffering and massive destruction to the country. HEKS/EPER has been trying to alleviate this suffering since the outbreak of the war. We support Ukrainian refugees in Switzerland and in Ukraine's neighbouring countries and provide humanitarian aid in Ukraine itself.

A tragic incident occurred at the beginning of February during one of our team's humanitarian missions in south-east Ukraine: two of our employees were killed and four others were injured in a drone attack on two HEKS/EPER vehicles. The circumstances of the fatal attack have since been investigated. The investigation shows that it was a targeted attack. HEKS/EPER has temporarily withdrawn from work in areas that are difficult to access, but is continuing its humanitarian aid in other regions of Ukraine. The French and Ukrainian governments have launched a war crimes investigation into the attack.

Kharkiv food distribution
Andràs D. Hajdù

Emergency aid in Ukraine

HEKS/EPER was already active in Ukraine before the war. Since the outbreak of the war, HEKS/EPER has continuously intensified its work in places where only a few NGOs are active: Be it in Transcarpathia, the poorest region where many displaced people live, or in the tunnels of the Odessa metro, which have become places of refuge. In order to be able to work in even the most remote and inaccessible conflict areas, HEKS/EPER draws on its experience from other conflict zones such as the Congo.

The aim of this mission was to cover the basic needs of the people remaining in the war zone. 80 to 85 per cent of them are elderly people who are bedridden, unable to move or caring for sick relatives. In addition, there are evacuees who decide to return because they no longer have any savings and can imagine surviving in their home with a piece of land and a few chickens. What awaits them on the ground is harsh: the houses are badly damaged. In most cases, several people live in one room or in a cellar.

Ukraine disabled people
Andràs D. Hajdú

Building materials and winter aid

During the winter months, HEKS/EPER distributed goods for the winter (stoves, fuel, sleeping bags, etc.) to 8,074 affected people in the Donetsk, Mykolaiv and Kherson oblasts. In southern Ukraine, emergency kits were also distributed to repair 1,179 houses. In western Ukraine, in Transcarpathia and Chernivtsi, HEKS/EPER supported 2,000 internally displaced persons and the host communities. Together with its long-standing partner organisations, HEKS/EPER also supports refugees in the neighbouring countries of Romania, Moldova and Hungary, reaching a total of 327,288 people there.  

Andràs D. Hajdù

Support for refugees in Switzerland

Since the beginning of the war, around 84,000 people have fled from Ukraine to Switzerland. In the first year, HEKS/EPER arranged accommodation with private individuals for over 2,000 people in the regions of Eastern Switzerland and Basel. The private accommodation greatly eased the logistical burden on the cantons and municipalities and facilitated the social integration of the refugees. However, the longer the war in Ukraine continues, the more the focus of the Ukrainians who have fled here shifts from the acute issues of protection and accommodation to the need for future prospects, social belonging and the resumption of work or training. 

HEKS/EPER supports refugees from Ukraine in their social and professional integration with various programmes. In the HEKS/EPER language courses, for example, Ukrainian children and adults throughout Switzerland not only learn German and French, but also receive useful information about life in Switzerland.

«HEKS MosaiQ» advises qualified migrants throughout Switzerland on their personal situation, supports them with the recognition of diplomas and works with them to plan the next steps on the path to professional integration. In 2023, 402 people received counselling, 242 of whom were from Ukraine. The aim is for well-qualified Ukrainians to find work or career prospects in Switzerland that match their skills and interests. Unfortunately, the counselling centres have shown that it is difficult for Ukrainians with S status to find a job, as employers do not want to invest in an employee who could quickly lose their status again.

MosaiQ Bern Beratung
Nik Hunger

S status only temporary

In contrast to other refugees in Switzerland, the Ukrainians were granted S status, which was applied for the first time in this form, in a very straightforward manner. They were admitted quickly, without an asylum procedure and until the need for protection ceases. This is a temporary humanitarian admission. The duration of protection status S is usually one year. However, the protection status is return-orientated and therefore not intended for permanent residence in Switzerland. However, the war in Ukraine will last longer than originally assumed. Refugees therefore need prospects for the future despite their temporary protection. In order to improve the integration of women, childcare facilities must be expanded. This expansion also promotes the possibility of economic participation for Ukrainian families.

However, the status S also creates unequal treatment between refugees from Ukraine and refugees from other war zones. HEKS/EPER supports the Swiss Refugee Council's call for S status and temporary admission to be replaced by a humanitarian protection status with the same rights as recognised refugees.

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