Print
The Displaced

Ukrainians struggle to start over

by Mark Raczkiewycz

image Click for more images

Nataliya Menshykova never imagined fleeing her home would help fulfill a dream: running her own theater.

Once an actress and theater director in the Crimean capital of Simferopol, she re-entered the theater in Lviv six months after arriving there in April 2014, intent on doing what she knows best. Eventually, she collaborated with a war veteran to establish a theater troupe consisting of other internally displaced Ukrainians.

“Theater is a form of therapy, I want to help others. It’s better than giving to yourself.”

Theater, she says, is about people. “People need the theater. There’s a war in the country, yet the children grow older. They need ... some kind of example. They need to understand there are people in the country they could take after.”

Ms. Menshykova is one of the 10,000 people who have migrated to the city of Lviv in western Ukraine from Crimea and the villages and cities in Ukraine’s two easternmost regions, where a nearly three-year war has raged with Russian-backed separatists. Overall, about 1.7 million people have been displaced to other parts of Ukraine — the largest displacement of people in Europe since World War II.

In Lviv, most of the internally displaced persons, or I.D.P.s, have arrived with few belongings. Some are now adjusting to the fact they might not be able to move back to their homes for another five years, if ever.

“Frustration is very high. There’s no clear end in sight. That’s what I hear over and over again,” says Barbara Manzi, head of the United Nations Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in Kiev.

Displaced people, she says, need help to “move on with their lives.”

Moving on, however, is fraught with challenges. Some of the displaced need counseling as they or family members suffer from posttraumatic stress disorders. Many face unemployment or underemployment, and require legal assistance to restore identity and financial documents.

Fitting in also is a struggle.

“They speak Russian,” says Maksym Bondarenko of Caritas Ukraine, the charity of the Catholic churches in Ukraine headquartered in Lviv. This alarms the local people, he continues, as it reminds them of the Soviet Union’s annexation of the region from Poland in the wake of World War II. “The I.D.P.s are thus associated with being pro-Russians.”

A mother of two sons, Ms. Menshykova, 42, can attest to feeling as an outcast at times.

“An elderly lady asked me why I came to Lviv,” she recounts, suggesting she should have remained in Crimea because “the Russians pay higher wages and eventually pensions.”

Indeed, the Ukrainian government has made life more difficult for refugees in February 2016, when it suspended social payments to some 600,000 displaced people, many of them pensioners and usually the primary breadwinner of their families.

Ms. Menshykova’s theater, called Domus (Latin for “home”) is partly aimed at making people feel welcome.

“We have plays for adults and children,” she says. “I want everyone to feel at home here.”

Post a Comment | Comments(0)

1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 |