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Humanitarian groups prepare to send winter help to Ukrainians

AYESHA RASCOE, HOST:

As the war in Ukraine stretches on, humanitarian aid groups are continuing their work. And while it's in the 80s today in Kyiv, winter is not too far off. Joining us now is Tamara Demuria, the chief humanitarian officer of Corus World Health International. Welcome.

TAMARA DEMURIA: Thank you for having me.

RASCOE: So you were just in Kyiv. What did you hear from the people you work with there and from the Ukrainians who need aid that your organization and others like it provide?

DEMURIA: So I've been visiting different parts of Ukraine since pretty much early days of war, and it has been a heartbreaking reality meeting with women, with children, with the families that are displaced across the country. Let me just start by saying that we need to be reminded we're still looking at an active military engagement, an active ongoing war in Ukraine, which is now in its sixth month. So about 7 million people remain displaced across the country. We're looking at significant shifts in medical services, lack of the access to the health care in certain parts of the country. We're talking about significant gaps in agricultural production because, if I'm not mistaken, Ukraine has now shifted to be either the first or one of the top countries that are contaminated with mines. And that poses a significant risk because of farming lands being abandoned and people fearing to go back to sustain their basic livelihoods.

So in my meetings across the country, which were not just limited to Kyiv and Lyiv, where most of the reports usually come from, but all across east, southern, center and the western part of Ukraine, they're talking about being left without no income and really worrying that they are now defaulting to some of the negative coping strategies, including depleting their savings, including worrying about their housing. A lot of these internally displaced are still housed in temporary shelters, temporary collective places where they are not seen as a long-term guest - and that resources, also, are running short.

RASCOE: We've been hearing a lot about Russia holding up Ukrainian grain shipments and otherwise hampering the harvests there. Is that translating into bare shelves in Ukraine?

DEMURIA: It is, in fact. And as we know, the ripple effects of holding up the grains and this disrupted supply chain impacting the health in Middle Eastern countries. Some of the countries that will see significant food insecurity and will be seeing millions of people declaring themselves in a catastrophe from a food security perspective, what does that pose in terms of the global risks, I think, is not hard to guess. We're talking about not just the humanitarian crisis but also insecurity and political crises increasing across some of these countries, impacting even those that are not necessarily trapped in that cycle.

For Ukraine itself, I think that is part of the overall economy and how the economy has been affected severely. The production is really low. The subsistence farming is almost impossible. There are pockets of country where people still try to farm and feed themselves, but it is getting really cold. They've missed the harvesting season. Some of them have missed the sowing season. We're looking at much longer and significant ripple effects within the country itself as well as in other parts of the world. And this is very worrisome because it will reach the magnitude that their resources will just not be enough to not only put a Band-Aid approach but think and address some of these impacts longer term.

RASCOE: What do Ukrainians need to prepare for the winter?

DEMURIA: Winter is pretty hard. We're looking at housing that is not appropriate, especially those collective centers that I have visited near Kharkiv, near - in the eastern part of the country, some of the places that had to open up some of the closed and depreciated buildings because they were facing buses of people arriving and having nowhere to go. The windows are definitely not insulated. We're not looking at adequate warm water or any type of water system that can sustain continuous usage and the hundreds of people using it on a daily basis as compared to what those systems and how outdated they are and what they were used for before. We're looking at warm clothes. People had to run with nothing. We're looking at lack of services within the buildings. We're looking at lack of heating tools and all of the things that you would require, given that there is a significant increase in prices for the fuel.

RASCOE: That's Tamara Demuria of Corus International. Thank you so much for joining us.

DEMURIA: Thank you for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Ayesha Rascoe is a White House correspondent for NPR. She is currently covering her third presidential administration. Rascoe's White House coverage has included a number of high profile foreign trips, including President Trump's 2019 summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Hanoi, Vietnam, and President Obama's final NATO summit in Warsaw, Poland in 2016. As a part of the White House team, she's also a regular on the NPR Politics Podcast.
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