At CIVIC, we know that better protection begins with understanding. Strategies to respond to and address civilian harm and protection must account for specific needs if they are to be effective. Among the insights on our VOICES blog, we share stories of civilians in conflict to illuminate experiences from a variety of geographies, backgrounds, ages, genders, and more.  

In this entry, guest contributor, Mikayla Goetz, shares another glimpse into her experience working with civilians impacted by the ongoing conflict in Ukraine. Mikayla is turning interviews she gathered in Ukraine into a feature film.


“Ukraine is a good country. Ukrainians are good people. I love Ukraine. But I cannot stay.”

She wakes up in the morning and puts a hot water kettle on the stove as she has every morning in this kitchen for twenty years. She looks out her window as the snow outside piles taller than her youngest grandchild.

At the age of 80, she is alone.

Piece by piece, her family has immigrated to Israel. They could no longer sustain a life in their hometown of Luhansk, which is now a conflict zone. She looks into the once-serene streets she played in as a child. Those streets now see great violence, but she has hope that peace will one day return to her town. Or at least she used to.

In her words:

I had a big family. Husband and two children, grandchildren, and grand grandchildren. My husband died. My husband was Jewish. When my children found no work here, they call family in Israel and they left. They would always tell me to come be with them, but it’s really not easy to leave everything where you’ve lived so many years. But it’s very hard to live in Luhansk. Money hard. Prices for food is very high. Pension payment is very little.

So I try to survive and then one day I wake up and see I am alone, and my children are in Israel, and I am old.

So I decided to leave.

It’s very difficult to leave everything. I don’t have anyone in Luhansk. I had my best friend – suddenly she died. We were friends for fifty years. She would call me every evening and we would talk for two hours. Then she didn’t call me for a few days and I asked someone to come and visit with her and when they came they found her dead.

She was dead for three days in her apartment.

But still, I was raised here. I was born here. I studied here in Ukraine. So it’s part of my life. It’s my country. I live in Ukraine. I’m used to… I don’t want anything else. But…

I don’t have much choice.

She stares off for a moment, letting the weight of her words sink in. She reaches for her tea cup and accidentally knocks over a stack of crossword puzzles. After sharing so much pain with great composure, this seemingly small disruption is her breaking point.

“My crosswords are falling!”

She cries out with great distress as she gingerly lowers herself to the floor. One by one, she carefully reaches for the puzzles, picking up the pieces and holding each to her chest as she tries to put the pile back together.

“I have no one to talk to. Only crosswords. I am very glad you came.”

An elderly man navigating his life in the conflict zone while living alone.
“I am alone here. It’s very dangerous to be alone at my age. If I suddenly fall down, I have no one to help.”

The conflict in Ukraine has entered its sixth year, and there are no signs that it will end any time soon. Over 10,000 civilian casualties have been recorded, and civilians continue to suffer from the consequences of warfare – mostly from shelling, small arms fire, and landmines/explosive remnants of war. The current situation is preventing a return to a normal, peaceful life for all civilians.

CIVIC recently completed research into the assistance available to conflict-affected civilians in Ukraine and found that it was woefully inadequate. Because of structural gaps at the local and national levels of the Ukrainian government, NGOs and the Ukraine military are often the first providers of assistance to civilians along the contact line, a 500km stretch separating Ukrainian government and non-government-controlled areas. For civilians living in the JFO (Joint Force Operation) zone, like the woman featured here in Mikayla’s post, that means access to assistance including healthcare, medicine, food, and shelter can be dangerously limited.

In May 2014, seeking to better support civilians harmed by the conflict, the Civil-Military Cooperation Directorate was formed within the Armed Forces of Ukraine (CIMIC), which has taken the lead in coordinating efforts to better focus Ukrainian military personnel on civilian protection. While this is a promising step, to date, not all CIMIC posts are fully staffed or properly funded and CIMIC officers are not always able to reach civilians in need.

Additional insight into prevailing harm patterns, key assistance actors and mechanisms, and gaps that impede the effective delivery of assistance to conflict-affected populations is available in our forthcoming report, to be released later in 2019.

Learn more about our work to promote the protection of civilians in Ukraine.

Learn about Mikayla’s work in Ukraine. Mikayla can be reached at mikayla@botgtheater.org.

Images courtesy of Roberto Maldeno and Mikayla Goetz
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