Help for Ukrainians

Giving children a time-out from the war

How can Europeans actively cooperate with local actors in Ukraine and evaluate the needs of people suffering from the war? Benjamin Abtan is co-founder of the award-winning project “Europe Prykhystok”, funded by the Robert Bosch Stiftung. In our interview he talks about the importance of active listening, international cooperation in times of war and providing perspectives for children.

Sabine Fischer
Europe Prykhystok
November 30, 2022

“Europe Prykhystok” is an initiative that provides shelter for people affected by the war in Ukraine. What was your initial motivation to start the project? 

Benjamin Abtan: When Russia invaded Ukraine I witnessed the historical wave of support among the population of Europe for those affected by the war as well as the decrease in support after a while – although there were still lots of needs in Ukraine. We wanted to provide a more sustainable support system for those who suffer from the war. We identified that there was much potential in mobilizing and connecting local actors like authorities, regions, cities or associations from Ukraine and France to work together and find solutions. 

Benjamin Abtan

The co-founder of “Europe Prykhystok” leads the project's European coordination team. He is a former policy advisor to the French Ministers of Foreign Affairs and of Justice and founded a European network of antidiscrimination NGOs.  

How exactly does this work?

We actively talk to local authorities in Ukraine and listen to their needs – that’s our core value. The people living in Ukraine are the ones suffering the most, especially priority groups like children. When we met with local authorities in Ukraine, we expected to listen to needs of long term relocation. But in fact, what they really needed was support for the children. They needed them to get away for a short period of time. So we started organizing holidays for children. We did so by matching those needs with local partners in France and potentially other European countries.

For example: We arranged an agreement between the city of Montpellier and the region of Lviv in Ukraine to give children the opportunity for a holiday stay. This is an innovative approach: Usually there is hardly any international cooperation between local actors in the time of war nor regarding human mobility. But the institutions in Ukraine still work and the state is robust despite the war. This gives us the opportunity to develop a decentralized governance which is able to respond more thoughtfully to the challenges people are facing.

“The holidays help children to regain some strength and find ways not to collapse personally.”

Quote fromBenjamin Abtan
Quote fromBenjamin Abtan

This summer you were able to welcome children from the Lviv, Khmelnytska and Cherkasy regions in 15 locations in France. What impact do these holidays have on the people?

They are a huge relief for the families. The holidays give children the space to breathe and provide an opportunity for them to share their feelings with others. Let me share a story to underline this: At a dinner in France which was organized by a local association to welcome the children, I met a tall 16-year-old boy originally from the East of Ukraine. He was very shy and didn’t speak much. An adult later told me that he had just lost his father. 

I saw him again a few days later. He was among a few people being interviewed by a local TV station. The speech he gave was very impressive, he was in a strong fighting spirit. I was told that the holiday had allowed him to find a group of people with whom he could speak about war and loss. Thus, the children were able to find more energy for their families, their communities. They gained agency to not only be victims but also resistant and not to collapse personally. The biggest impact the project has is the human one.

Europe Prykhystok - Ferienprogramm 2022/1
Europe Prykhystok - Ferienprogramm 2022/2
Time-out from the war: Children from Ukraine on holiday in France.

How does this approach help to unlock hidden potentials of local actors?

Local authorities have huge potential to support people being affected by the war but they need infrastructures, new skills and intermediation to do so. We offer them a way to have international cooperation in the times of war and provide them directly with the needs of the people in Ukraine. We have experienced that, given these tools, local actors support the most vulnerable groups in different ways: Some provide the infrastructure to welcome children from areas of war for holidays or in-person learning, some share their expertise in psychological training, others collect funds that go directly to local actors in Ukraine, for example to renovate places where internally displaced people can live during the cold winter they are facing. There are many ways to help.

Learn more

Europe Prykhystok

More about the project

“Europe Prykhystok” (“refuge”, “shelter” in Ukrainian) is a regional effort initiated in April 2022 to support the most vulnerable victims of the war in Ukraine, especially children. The project was selected by the Paris Peace Forum, a platform supporting initiatives developing coordination, rules and structures that answer global problems.

More about the project
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