CANADEM's Humanitarian Response in Ukraine
~ Information Surge ~
Daniel MacIsaac in Ukraine with OCHA
Public Information Officer
Thanks to the United Nations Standby Partnership Programme (SBPP), now I know what a humanitarian “surge” is … what it looks like, how it feels, and the impact it has.
That’s because the term “surge” in relation to a crisis – in this case the ongoing, full-scale invasion and war in Ukraine that began 24 February – was new to me. But a surge is what the UN calls the initial staffing response to such a crisis – sending their staff from their headquarters in New York and Geneva and from around the world to Ukraine, and their standby partners.
I first saw that surge in Lviv, in western Ukraine, where I arrived in April via CANADEM and the SBPP – as a Public Information Office (PIO) with the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA). There were initially hundreds of us from the different UN agencies and INGO partners based at the Premier Dnister Hotel at the time – both staying there and working together in the large conference room that OCHA had converted into what it called a humanitarian workspace.
Evacuation of civilians, including children with disabilities, from Luhansk Oblast
My first months were an exciting and demanding time. Because this has been my first crisis deployment through the SBPP and for OCHA, on top of my basic work, I had to become more familiar with aspects including basic administrative and security procedures, the Cluster Approach, Who was Who within OCHA, and who it was exactly that was working with and around me! This last point, who my new colleagues were and are, has turned out to be one of the more enjoyable aspects of this deployment. The UN staff and standby partners on surge come from across the globe, are well travelled and have years of experience – so that working or just speaking with them is helpful and inspirational. And I would like to think that I have also been able to offer my colleagues insight and perspective, having already worked for 10 years in Ukraine and longer in the region.
UN Under-Secretary General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator visiting areas of suspected human-rights violations and advocating for humanitarian assistance
Because I have been working as a PIO in the Communications and Reporting Unit for OCHA – an agency which by definition strives to coordinate the humanitarian response among all the UN agencies, international and national NGOs as well as and donors – I have had a higher and wider view of the crisis response in Ukraine and its impacts on millions of Ukrainians. I have helped to communicate in part how the UN and its humanitarian partners have assessed people’s immediate and longer-term needs, how they have worked to meet them and what more assistance is urgently required. I have done this primarily through writing and editing some of our main products – including the weekly Ukraine: Situation Report, providing updates on the latest security developments and impacts on civilians as well as latest humanitarian needs, responses and gaps.
This is how the learning/knowledge and human-impact aspects of the SBPP pertains to me and my position as a PIO. Because this is exactly what the Communications and Reporting Unit does – works to help everyone understand what is happening on the ground in Ukraine and to show the impact of the world’s humanitarian response and what more is needed and needs to be done – from what kind of help in particular to how much funding. We do this, besides in reports, through multimedia campaigns, storytelling, public statements and media briefings as well as official visits.
In my five-plus months with OCHA, we have reported on: the displacement of millions of Ukrainians both internally within in the country (currently some 7 million) and those who have sought refuge in the European Union and elsewhere abroad (7.3 million); civilians evacuating from places where there is active fighting and/or where the Ukrainian Government has temporarily lost control; and we have advocated for the protection of civilians and critical civilian infrastructure – including residential buildings, hospitals and schools as well as utilities and the railway. Our unit and agency have supported the visits to Ukraine of high-ranking officials including UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator Martin Griffiths, who visited the sites of atrocities and suspected human-rights violations, including Bucha.
UN Secretary-General António Guterres visited Ukraine on a diplomatic and humanitarian mission - meeting with Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky
OCHA also helped support UN Secretary-General António Guterres during his two visits so far during the war – on a diplomatic and humanitarian mission to Kyiv in April and then to Odesa in August as part of the Black Sea Grain Initiative allowing for the safe and urgently required export of Ukrainian agricultural products – 2.7 million tons by September. We have reported how our inter-agency humanitarian convoys have delivered truckloads and tons of aid – from food and water to building materials – to some of the worst-impacted regions and communities across the country, while continually advocating for increased access to people in need and especially those areas outside of the control of the Government. We continually try to show the impact of the full-scale invasion and war on ordinary people, and we react – including by drafting and making statements when particularly egregious and tragic incidents occur, such as the missile strike on a shopping centre in Kremenchuck, Poltavska oblast, in July. We stage campaigns around grim but important milestones including 100 days of the war but also more-positive events such as World Humanitarian Day, 19 August.
OCHA has helped arrange and participated in media briefings on the humanitarian response by the UN and its partners
Impacts of this SBPP deployment and work include that the world better understands the situation in Ukraine and the incredible challenges Ukrainians are facing. Countries and donors have helped fund the humanitarian response required. And by mid-September, almost 600 humanitarian organizations were able to reach 13.3 million Ukrainians with different forms of assistance and protection services. Public information, communications and reporting play an integral role in this crisis-response process.
On a personal level, I was certainly grateful to have been able to return to Ukraine so quickly through this deployment – and, after being based in Lviv for the first four months, I was even able to move back to Kyiv starting in August. I have been able to contribute directly to the crisis response while also learning a lot along the way. And for that, for all of these opportunities, I am thankful to my family, CANADEM and OCHA.