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Social work in Ukraine update: “We know we will survive and thrive”

An update on the partnership between IFSW and the Kamianets-Podilskyi district.


Social work in Ukraine update: “We know we will survive and thrive”

“Thank you IFSW so much for all the support. It is not just the organisation and supply of essential products; it is not just the expert advice leading to our establishment of community welfare, it is also your presence in our country. Because of this, we know we are not alone. We know we will survive and thrive.”

These words spoken by Mykhailo Simashkevych, the President of the Kamianets-Podilskyi District, come at the end of the first 6 months of the partnership between IFSW and this district in Ukraine. This journey has resulted in the district developing substantial growth of caring and essential social support systems under traumatic conditions.

The last IFSW update covered the social work response from the beginning on the invasion in February through to October, involving: Supporting dignified options for refugees, the invitation from within Ukraine to form a partnership, the development of social enterprises, a social supermarket and a Community Social Work Centre that has created mutual support systems for local and internally displaced people providing housing, heating, clothing, work, trauma counselling and care.

During November and December, the Partnership continued to produce huge outcomes even as the war conditions inflamed. The District now regularly experiences drone bomb attacks as Putin’s administration attempts to destroy all heating and power systems in the winter period. Beyond the terror of falling bombs, Kamianets-Podilskyi, like other Ukraine districts, now only have, at the most, a few hours of electricity each day and in some towns no electricity at all. Through the Partnership, alternative forms of heating are being developed including communal spaces where gas heating provides respite warmth.

To create some normalcy for children and a break in the traumatic conditions, social workers in Romania organised and hosted a children’s football match between the two countries. Arrangements for the children’s transportation across the border was facilitated by the Partnership and Romanian spectators were asked to bring toys that could be distributed as Christmas gifts among the Ukrainian families.

As more internally displaced people arrive the Community Social Work Centre, with IFSW’s support and community volunteers, has transformed a building initially housing 40 internal refugees to now accommodate 80 people. Support systems are also enlarging: locating accommodation, clothes, food and extending invitations to recently arrived refugees to join the mutual support systems. The work is not easy. Making old, disused buildings habitable without building supplies requires both community volunteers and social workers to quickly develop skills and apply innovative thinking.

The social supermarket has continued to grow in success and for many people, it is the preferred option, rather than queuing for food parcels distributed by aid organisations. At the social supermarket members of the public can swap vouchers – earned through undertaking community mutual-support activities – for food and essential items. The President of the Association of Social Workers Ukrainian and local in the District, Yana Melnychuk said, “This system honours our dignity and recognises each and everyone’s strength and ability to contribute. Since the development of the social supermarket, everyone wants to be a part. By helping others, we are helping ourselves”.

In the last 3 months, since our last update, the Community Social Work Centre has organised 53 courses, workshops and support groups for children and adults. These included sessions on dealing with the psychological implications of war on children, first aid courses and group psychological counselling sessions.

The social workers at the Centre have also undertaken Individual and social support assessments of 345 people who have attended the Centre to co-construct specific responses to individuals. Along with community volunteers, they have also facilitated, with international aid partners, 120,000 food and essential products packages and for Christmas over 5000 packages of toys for children.

The Ukraine Association of Social Workers was formally admitted into full membership of IFSW in December. It was a quick process involving the establishment of the Association under war conditions after previous administrations had collapsed many years ago. Yana Melnychuk commented, “The formation of the Association in Ukraine was an important aspect of the work of the Partnership. Creating and consolidating a national identity of the profession as a professional actor in surviving the invasion and in the future rebuilding the country’s social structures is paramount”. This was recognised by the Ukraine office of the Prime Minister, whose representative affirmed these points during the national launch of the Association and further commented, “The Prime Minister has been examining different models of social support and after learning of the outcomes from the Kam’yanets’-Podil’s’kyi district he wants to see this approach grow across the country”.

Just before Christmas Ana Radulescu, IFSW European President met with social workers from other Ukraine districts who are also calling for similar partnerships.

“IFSW, together with the social workers from Kamianets-Podilskyi and the National Association of Ukraine will do everything we can to extend this model of working and we are seeking new local and international partners that share this ‘beyond humanitarian aid’ model to assist with this enormous task,” she said.

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