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Ukraine: hope in the shadow of war

Programmes for Ukrainians affected by the war deliver disaster relief while building prospects for a better future.

February 2022: For five years, Sven Stabroth has been working for peace in eastern Ukraine as a development worker. Now, suddenly, he is forced to leave the country. He is evacuated, without even having time to retrieve his belongings from his flat. Russian forces roll across the border. The war of aggression has begun. Everyone at GIZ is worried about the safety of staff members. Stabroth’s international team is ripped apart. Some are glued to screens, anxious about colleagues and friends. Others suddenly find themselves in the middle of a war zone with air raid warnings and missile strikes. No one knows what this will mean for their work together.

It quickly becomes apparent that what the people in Ukraine need first and foremost is acute survival aid. GIZ has been working in Ukraine for 30 years. Its network on the ground enables it to respond rapidly, engaging closely with local communities. Within the framework of the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development’s Special Assistance Programme for Ukraine, GIZ procures relief supplies, food and bedding for some of the seven million or so internally displaced people. Generators, water filters and solar modules for the towns and cities affected by the war help maintain essential power and water supplies. The EU provides some of the financing. ‘The project had pinned our needs and challenges before we were able to identify them. Everything you have been delivering us is of great value and importance for the well-being of the people here,’ says Antonina Moskalyuk, Deputy Mayor of the City of Kodyma.

Rapid assistance that makes the difference:


internally displaced people were supplied with essential food, bedding and medicines at the start of the war.


electricity generators were delivered to Ukraine.


municipalities have been advised on how to apply the laws of war.

Photo: A man stands in the hold of a truck holding an orange mattress. Behind him, more mattresses are stacked.
Mattresses are delivered to the region of Mykolaiv to fit out emergency shelters for displaced people from other parts of Ukraine. © Vesselynove municipality in Mykolayiv region
Portrait photo: Nataliia Zuzak.

»I understand every day that there is no time for long planning, discussions or follow-ups.«

Nataliia Zuzak, Head of HR in GIZ’s country office in Ukraine
In this video, our Ukrainian staff member Nataliia Zuzak talks about how the Russian war of aggression has changed her life and her work.

Easing the burden on host communities

The high numbers of internally displaced people put pressure on the host communities in particular. Supporting them is one priority of the Special Assistance Programme. Those who have had to flee the war zone have suffered traumatic experiences there, and the influx of new arrivals also places a huge strain on local residents. Social and health infrastructures are stretched to breaking point. This is why GIZ is training staff in hospitals and other institutions to respond to the emergency situation.

In hospitals, the main focus of activities is on providing psychosocial care to both newcomers and residents, so that hospital staff can give them the best possible help to work through their traumas. Other training concentrates on legal assistance and job-seeking. GIZ also supports cultural centres in providing integration services for displaced people so that they feel welcome rather than alien in their new setting.

Portrait photo: Bogdana Brylynska.

»Our main challenge is to create a safe space for individuals who had to come to Lviv because of the war. They are looking for a new home – both to have a roof over their head and to belong to a community. GIZ supports us in this work not only financially, but also through professional advice and networking with other centres.«

Bogdana Brylynska,
Director of PORYAD Cultural Centre in Lviv
© Natalia Khasanshyn
Photo: In a room with bookshelves, several chairs are set up on which isolated people are sitting. The people are listening to a woman standing in front of them.
The PORYAD Cultural Centre in Lviv offers integration courses for internally displaced Ukrainians. © Hasanshina N. Olehivna

Rapid assistance that makes the difference:


small and medium-sized enterprises have received financial support.


medical articles were procured at the start of the war.


children and young people have been supported with psychosocial services.

Swift, flexible response for greater security

Direct, coordinated assistance is particularly important in Ukraine, as the course of the war changes rapidly. We have put in place the structures we need within the framework of the Stabilisation Platform, via which we support the German Federal Foreign Office’s engagement in crisis and conflict regions around the world. A joint base in Warsaw facilitates a coordinated approach with international partners including the UK, the USA and Canada, and with administrative bodies in Ukraine. Our close cooperation with our Ukrainian partners allows us to respond directly to civilian needs they have identified during the hostilities. For instance, we are stepping up nuclear safety by providing protective and IT equipment to Ukraine’s nuclear power stations so they can be monitored more effectively.

Bridging the gap between rapid relief and long-term prospects

It soon becomes clear that GIZ’s core competence in long-term international cooperation is also urgently needed. Now especially, when people in Ukraine see nothing but uncertainty in their daily lives, it is more important than ever before to have prospects of a better future. In view of the urgent problems at hand, the focus is on realigning projects in order to successfully bridge the gap between rapid and tangible relief and long-term, effective measures.

The Innovation Lab that GIZ is running on behalf of BMZ is one example. It is geared to driving forward Ukraine’s efforts to move closer to the EU with innovative, citizen-responsive policy-making. In February 2022, the project team started thinking about how the Lab, with its focus on new ideas, could best support people during the crisis and help with reconstruction. The result was Makerspaces – mobile workspaces with satellite internet connections, fitted out with wood and metal milling equipment and 3D printers that can be used to produce medical materials and components quickly. Different sections of the population come together in the Makerspaces to help one another. Young people, for instance, are developing prosthetics for ex-servicemen and women. These are produced using the 3D printer, thereby enabling the young people to acquire new skills that will stand them in good stead later on.

The work of Sven Stabroth and his team has taken on an entirely new relevance as a result of the war. Before February 2022, the project trained teachers and administrative staff to resolve tensions between different sections of the population in a non-violent manner. ‘Dealing with emotions, promoting resilience and self-awareness – all this is helping teachers and local authority staff now to cope with the massive mental strain.’ Since the start of the war, a popular children’s magazine produced by schoolchildren with the support of the team has been addressing issues like anxiety and sleeping disorders. In so doing, the children have been helping themselves and their peers to work through war-related fears together.

Portrait photo: Sven Stabroth.

»I lived in Ukraine for eight years. Even now that I’m back in Germany, the war is always present in our work. My team is now spread over three time zones. We’re in regular contact, but we can be interrupted at any time by power outages or air raid warnings. The partners we support are a constant source of confidence, new ideas and readiness to help in spite of the extreme situation they face. It is quite overwhelming. That motivates me to do all I can to continue the projects to the best of our ability under the circumstances.«

Sven Stabroth,
Coordinator of the development worker project Peace Education in Support of Overcoming Internal Social Polarisation in Eastern Ukraine"
© Olena Zamenyagre

Cross-border assistance

The war has forced many people to flee Ukraine for neighbouring countries. In the Republic of Moldova, GIZ is helping municipalities deliver medical care to refugees.

Space is at a premium in the small Moldovan town of Ştefan Vodă. Since Russia invaded Ukraine in February 2022, it has taken in some 3,000 refugees fleeing the war in the neighbouring country. It is a Herculean task for the community of 7,000 and the surrounding villages directly bordering Ukraine. ‘The first few months after the war broke out were hard. Hundreds of thousands of refugees arrived in our region,’ says Mariana Haret. She is responsible for the public health institutions in the district. ‘Our doctors and nurses were in action at the border round the clock, as well as serving the three refugee centres. We simply didn’t have the staff, and medicines were also in short supply.’

Moldova is the smallest of Ukraine’s neighbours, and has the weakest economy. Even before the war, many public institutions were unable to carry out their duties in full. In the face of the large numbers of refugees, this situation has been exacerbated further, especially in health and social services facilities. This is why, since July 2022, GIZ has been working on behalf of the German Development Ministry to provide social, health and education facilities in the regions of Căuşeni, Ştefan Vodă and Ungheni with urgently needed materials, including technical medical equipment for dental hospitals, radiology units and laboratories.

Photo: Man wearing a laboratory coat, gloves, and face mask sitting in front of equipment in a laboratory.
© GIZ / photothek

Additionally, GIZ is working with a local consultancy firm to set up two outpatient clinics, whose mobile teams can reach socially disadvantaged sections of the population too. ‘Although the number of refugees arriving has now declined, the pressure on our health service remains high,’ explains Haret. ‘The support from Germany is helping us keep our hospital running.’

In 2022, GIZ provided direct support for about 100,600 refugees in Moldova, with the host community also benefiting from higher quality health services with easier access.

Portrait photo: Mariana Haret.

»Thanks to the support from Germany, we have been able to replace outdated laboratory equipment. Now we can perform faster and more accurate tests. The high-performance generator we received allows us to maintain electricity and heating in our hospital during the frequent power outages. And the new outpatient services vehicle means we can also send doctors into rural communities that have no doctors of their own. The people there now have access to better health care.«

Mariana Haret,
Director of Public Health Institutions in Ştefan Vodă
© GIZ / photothek