Dove flying in front of the Ukraine flag (blue and yellow stripes)

Dispatch from IOM in Ukraine: Ashley Mungai’s Third blog from the virtual field

Photo credit: Eurasia Review

By: Ashley Mungai, MAGG

I’m constantly in shock that it has barely been two months since the crisis in Ukraine began, yet the impacts of this crisis have devastated the lives of millions of Ukrainians and will echo for decades to come. Working virtually for IOM Ukraine, I receive daily reports on the horrific impacts and watch the numbers of forcibly displaced grow with the deeply saddened knowledge that every number is not just a statistic but a mother, father, or child whose world has changed forever. Our role is to try to be of service in their most desperate moments.

As of April 3rd 2022, the current number of internally displaced persons is 6,477,723. The total number of refugees fleeing Ukraine stands at 4,215,047, and at least 209,789 of these are third-country nationals (though sources suggest these numbers could be much, much higher).

Yet, as the crisis in Ukraine carries on, so does the complexity of the response. Despite the fact that there is now more available data in some areas, it only reveals the magnitude of what is needed and the ongoing sacrifice of so many to offer humanitarian aid under challenging conditions.

Over the past few weeks, one of the many needs that have come to our attention is that of third-country nationals (diaspora communities or students) also fleeing Ukraine.  However, sitting in meetings and hearing in detail their plight and difficulties, it is not lost on me that, for all practical purposes, technically, I would be considered a third country national here in Canada as the majority of this community are international students just like me. Yet on top of fleeing war, their only crime is that they are internationals.  Unfortunately for some, that has led to prejudice, detention, discrimination when accessing relief and even ill-treatment.

Moreover, their stories and plights reveal how much is still unknown about the crisis and the difficulties being faced by various groups. What is desperately needed is an intersectional humanitarian response, not a one-size-fits-all approach. For example, there is a tremendous need for responses that take into account the often silenced experiences of the LGBTQ+  community, who face even greater discrimination at border crossings and an increased risk of abuse.

One of the projects I’m proud to be part of is collating a register of all the diaspora organisations supporting Ukrainians and non-Ukrainians, the purpose of which is to create a safe hub with resources that they can access. The aim is to connect various groups and offer much-needed information, situation reports, or training materials.  Being a member of the diaspora and serving this group of vulnerable individuals and the selfless actors, risking their lives daily, is incredibly humbling as I also get to help students just like me- albeit indirectly.

This crisis has shown the dark side of humanity, but also the heart of society. The glimmers of hope are revealed through the overwhelming support and humanitarian aid pouring in from diaspora organisations and migrants, both informally and formally. From families opening up their homes to community organisations, and social groups re-purposing their efforts from continents and miles away to give aid selflessly and even from places of lack.

My days are often spent updating documents or researching and engaging different diaspora organisations willing to offer various forms of humanitarian aid. As I reflect on the last few weeks and the work ahead, I am reminded of the African proverb, “If you want to go fast, go alone; if you want to go far, go together.” 

Yes, there is a lot of pain, prejudice, and even loss, but there is also hope. In days filled with sad statistics and, at times, exhausting bureaucracy; I remember this hope by looking around me at the global response (virtual and in-person) and the rest of my Ukrainian team on the frontlines still working tirelessly to serve as many people as possible. There is hope because together we make a difference.

This may be my last virtual dispatch, and if I could ask one thing: please, as hard as it may seem,  choose to see the hope and resilience of humanity over the pain and darkness.



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