“No one in Ukraine expected the seriousness of this war”

As the war in Ukraine started a month ago, Ukrainians, refugees, displaced or bombarded, are returning to the humanitarian situation for Paris Match, said Frédéric de Saint Sernin, deputy director general of the non-governmental organization ACTED.

Paris Match. What’s the latest news from your field teams?
Frederic de Saint-Sernin. This is alarming news because the flow of displaced people and refugees continues: We have surpassed 10 million who have left their homes, of whom six million – although it is not easy to count – have left and remain in their homes. country. They went to regions in the central and western parts of the country. We can compare four million refugees in 25 days to the last major migration crisis in Syria: there were six million Syrian refugees, but within ten years.
We have been in Ukraine since 2015, especially in the Donbass and East, where we are working to address a variety of concerns, including basic needs, causes of deindustrialization and environmental damage. From now on, we are intervening in a generally very difficult situation for the majority of Ukrainians.

Interview: “The places of greatest suffering cannot be reached in Ukraine”

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How many employees work on the site?
We have 200 employees there, and as in many countries, we work with non-governmental organizations and local NGOs, for a total of 75. We have a fairly strong network in the country, which allows us to be as efficient as possible to provide needs to those in need, even when people are on the move.

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It’s been a month since the war started. How many people has ACTED supported?
We are around 25,000 direct beneficiaries in Ukraine. That’s not counting what we’re interested in on the other side of the borders, in Poland, Romania and Moldova. Polish and Romanian authorities manage to cope with the influx of refugees, but it is more difficult for Moldova, a poorer country that is not a member of the European Union. We recruited dozens of workers there who did a lot of work with these refugees.
Historically, we are in Donbass, so we continue to work where we are, but our main office is now in Lviv and no longer in kyiv. We also work in Kharkiv, where we deliver hot meals at the station every day. We do not work in Odessa because there is really no need, it is not a city at risk like many other cities like Mariupol, which is now completely cut off. We had a liaison office with about twenty employees there. We had one employee left in Mariupol who briefed us on the situation, and the others left the city. They work from other cities: many of Acted’s employees are also displaced.

“No one anticipated the seriousness of this war”

What are the main challenges they face?
There is a critical need for information to predict risks and reach populations without harming them. That’s why you need to listen to information in a country at war and know how far you can go without taking risks. We’re used to these situations, we’re in Afghanistan, Syria, Yemen, so we work in difficult terrains and the main issue is whether we are mobile and ready to intervene.

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What are the characteristics of the Ukrainian conflict compared to other areas in which you have intervened?
The peculiarity of the drama experienced by refugees is that probably no one anticipated the severity and outbreak of this war. In countries that have been at war for years or have survived climate disasters, we work with people who are often on the road to reach water points or escape conflict. They have learned that traveling can be necessary to save their lives, so they travel as a family and take everything they have, sometimes for very little. In Ukraine the situation is very different: these are people who have never dreamed of being in a state of war, they are often separated with very little, and families are quite fragmented. A few women, but mostly men, remained to fight. On the ground, among the displaced, we see women, children, the elderly, but almost no men.
Something could not be prepared psychologically and financially. When you leave the village with a suitcase, leaving behind a loved one, a husband, an older brother, you imagine that your return is near. However, as people leave thinking that peace will be signed sooner, we come to the fourth week of the conflict, which unfortunately seems not to be extinguished.
Compared to what we’ve seen elsewhere in decades, this is astonishing: a greater flow than ever since the start of WWII, with families easily separated for many because they were manless and bewildered and thought they’d be back quickly. .

Read more about ACTED’s actions in Ukraine on their website