First Person: Christmas under rocket fire in Ukraine

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In Ukraine, there was no respite from war over the holiday period, neither for the country’s citizens, nor the UN workers attempting to deliver aid and support, a senior official for the UN migration agency (IOM) told UN News.

Yuri Rudenko, National Programme Officer for IOM Ukraine, was on leave in his hometown of Dnipro on 29 December, when a deadly air raid struck multiple Ukrainian cities, including Dnipro. He and his team were immediately pressed into action.

“On the days between Christmas and New Year, Ukrainians celebrate. Despite the war, it is the time when we give our kids presents, get together with friends and family and, for a few days, try to switch off from the harsh reality of almost two years of fear and bloodshed. We put on a happy demeanour and hope for a Christmas miracle.

Yuri Rudenko, National Programme Officer for IOM Ukraine

Yuri Rudenko, National Programme Officer for IOM Ukraine

On 29 December, like the rest of Ukraine, I woke up early to the air raid alerts. Russian missiles were speeding towards Dnipro, Zaporizhzhia, Kyiv, Lviv and other Ukrainian cities. The largest attack of the war was under way, with combat drones, cruise and ballistic missiles, and hypersonic weapons.

There was no time to analyze or rationalize. I had to organize and coordinate IOM’s humanitarian response right away. Information rushed at me, and I quickly learned that many civilians were dead and injured, and their homes damaged. The whole nation was in shock. Not even maternity hospitals were spared. 

My city, Dnipro, is one of the largest cities in Ukraine – home to over one million people. With the start of the full-scale war, it became a frontline city hosting around 150,000 displaced people. 

The first step was to work with the Dnipro regional and municipal authorities to find out where the damage was heaviest and where we could help the most. 

They told me shelter kits were imperative, as many homes were gravely damaged. In the deep winter weather, the last thing a war-affected populace needed was holes in their walls and broken windows.  

Cities across Ukraine, including Dnipro (pictured), were heavily bombed over the festive period.

© UNOCHA/Oleksii Holenkov

Cities across Ukraine, including Dnipro (pictured), were heavily bombed over the festive period.

And even the local authorities themselves needed our help: one of the affected buildings was the office of the Dnipro Regional Social Protection Department – the authority which provides support to the most vulnerable people of the region. A missile hit a nearby building and blew out the windows, making their urgent work all but impossible. We had to help the civilians and support the Department as well.

Thankfully we were ready to respond, with EU-funded emergency shelter kits which contained hammers, nails, tarpaulins, plastic sheets, knives, rope and fixing agents, so that at least we could help protect people from the bitter wind and cold.

I can’t praise my colleagues highly enough. They hired trucks out of nowhere in the blink of an eye and got them to warehouses, where they were loaded and dispatched to the worst affected neighbourhoods. No matter their level of seniority, all colleagues pitched in to ensure goods were delivered to the people that needed them most. 

Twelve hours after the huge attacks we’d provided 420 Emergency Shelter Kits to local residents and displaced persons in Dnipro city, and 100 kits to the local authorities, enabling them to continue assisting vulnerable civilians in the region. 

It wasn’t the Christmas miracle we had hoped for, but at least we helped our neighbours stay warm, and showed them that they will never have to face adversity alone. Not at Christmas, not at New Year. Never.”



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