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Ukraine: cash grants offer dignity and hope

Svetlana received a cash grant of $280 from Save the Children, meaning she could buy her daughter winter clothes.

Svetlana is a young mother, in her late twenties. In her home town of Donetsk, she worked as an accountant, but as the conflict in Ukraine intensified around her, she became afraid for her family’s lives. She fled with her children to a neighbouring village. We sit together in a crowded family shelter there as she tells me her story.

“I left my parents behind in Donetsk. I was there only three days ago – it is a nightmare made real. In some areas, the destruction is total. The people there…they look like shadows.”

“We left our lives in Donetsk”

Svetlana pauses for a long time, staring out the window. She seems lost in thought, and I’m about to ask another question when she continues, her voice heavy with sadness.

“We left our lives in Donetsk. I was an accountant, but here, I am nothing. My husband looks for odd jobs to support us. The winter is very harsh, and both of my children became sick – we think from the cold.”

Cash programming – providing essential economic support

The conflict is just one reason that Save the Children is here. The harsh winter weather is another. Taken together, the impact on families can be fatal.

More than 300,000 children have fled the contested areas now, and that figure is rising daily. Often fleeing with nothing, many displaced families now need everything.

Traditional mechanisms for delivering aid don’t make sense in a middle-income country like Ukraine. Instead, we’re using cash programming, the fastest growing method of delivering aid in emergencies.

We supported Svetlana with a one-off cash grant of $280, to enable her family to buy winter supplies, such as blankets, warm clothes and waterproof boots.

” This kind of cash grant is so much better than receiving goods,” she says. “We can choose what we need.”

Providing dignity, supporting markets

There are many more reasons why, in the right context, and particularly in developed economies, cash is more effective and appropriate than other means.

It is less visible than other forms of aid, more flexible and more dignified, as another mother, Marina, explained:

“My husband is very ashamed of receiving charity. He is a proud man, and to take hand-outs or old clothes, he would not do it. Money is different – we can then go and spend money, and choose exactly what we need. It gives us back something.”

Critically, cash programming also supports local markets, instead of undermining them. Flooding any community with aid automatically means that the people receiving the aid will have less need for the local market.

Cash programmes mean that money continues to be spent in local markets, helping them to remain strong – a lifeline in any emergency.

For many, the grants are also a sign that they are not struggling alone. Svetlana has seen this since she started volunteering in the shelter, where she makes sure the families who come here know what aid is available. “They are all so delighted” she tells me, “and amazed that someone outside of Ukraine cares about us”.

Follow Cat on Twitter: @humanitariancat

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