Johanniter International Assistance and its partner NEW DAWN are working together in the Kherson region to provide the necessities of life to displaced people and those who have remained in the villages. Philipp Francke, Johanniter and founding member of NEW DAWN, has been helping people in southeastern Ukraine since the beginning of the war in the country. Here he describes what he experienced.
How did it come about that you became active in Ukraine?
Shortly after the beginning of the war in Ukraine, Johanniter was looking for a driver to transport relief supplies to Ukraine. I immediately volunteered and drove the first aid convoy with medicines worth 50,000 EUR to the Moldavian-Ukrainian border. Through a contact, I got to know the experienced Ukrainian aid worker Julia Pogrebnaya, who received the medicines and distributed them in the Odessa region together with other volunteers.
How did the foundation of an aid organisation in Ukraine come about?
Through contact with Julia, we had the opportunity to help in regions where hardly any aid organisations are active. As an additional partner with the same human values, the Csilla von Boeselagerstiftung Osteuropahilfe e.V. is worth mentioning, as it enables us to purchase the large quantities of relief supplies that are needed locally. This also strengthens the local economy and preserves jobs. For us to be able to enter into international partnerships and cooperation, Julia and I decided very soon that there was a need for a modern and neutral NGO.
Today, NEW DAWN is one of the most powerful and far-reaching non-governmental organisations in all of southeastern Ukraine.
What kind of help does NEW DAWN provide?
We now have two mainstays, to help displaced people on the one hand and people in the villages along the frontline on the other: In Odessa, we set up a centre where people who have lost everything come to receive initial care. Refugees who have returned from Germany also arrive here. We were able to establish the second pillar thanks to financial and advisory support from Johanniter. We travel to various villages along the frontline in the regions of Odessa, Mykolaev and Kherson to provide those who have remained with the necessities of life.
NEW DAWN travels to villages that have been completely cut off from the outside world for months or have been bombed daily. What do you experience there?
The people have experienced indescribable things. In some villages, they seem like zombies to me, hollowed out, scrawny, with a blank stare. These people have been living without electricity, clean water, food or hygiene items for months. Some have even had to bury the remains of their family members in the garden. Here, a big part of our help is not just the relief supplies but the hope we bring to the people that the world has not forgotten them.
Over the weekend, the media reported a withdrawal of troops from Kherson. How have people on the ground experienced this?
For weeks, NEW DAWN has been preparing for this, not only because some of the volunteers are from these villages, from the city itself, or have relatives there.
It is too early to describe exactly what people have experienced. What is unbelievable is the circumstances under which they survived. Sometimes up to 100 rocket hits in just one morning. The joy of being “home” again in Ukraine is indescribable. But the “home” is broken and no longer there. Everything is destroyed. Everything. Houses, schools, bridges…lives are destroyed and gone.
The stories of the people who come blinking out of the basements, who receive help for the first time in months, are emotionally challenging to cope with. They are stories of lost children, of disease, fear and hunger. But it is also worth mentioning the great, incredulous joy and incredible confidence of the people. The winter will be harsh, but NEW DAWN is confident, thanks to the support of Johanniter, we will be able to bring help and support to many thousands of people.
How are you processing all this?
I am grateful to be able to help. Thankful to the people who are helping and for being able to actively participate a little in alleviating the population’s suffering.
We also receive a lot of support from Ukrainian society. Volunteers who are themselves affected join us. Bakers donate baked goods, and local businesses donate a playground so the refugees’ children can play. Help is coming from all sides, and now even the Ministry of Integration in Kyiv gives NEW DAWN’s phone number to people in desperate need.
Now, before winter, we hear about large movements of refugees to Germany. What do you hear from your project region?
We are experiencing exactly the opposite. People are coming back. They hear about the liberated villages and pack their things. In Ukraine, they usually face nothing because everything has been destroyed. But their homesickness is too great to stop them. Already in the first three days of the liberation of the villages around Kherson, we see the first teenagers reappear. They are standing in the void. But they are home.