The Ukrainian authorities and the country’s charities have a strong track record of handling crises, and their hard-learned skills — sometimes absent in countries hit by disaster — can already be seen in the response to the destruction of a dam on the Dnipro River, humanitarian leaders say.
The State Emergency Service, which said it had rescued nearly 2,000 people from the immediate flood zone, has responded to thousands of Russian missile strikes since Moscow began its full-scale invasion 15 months ago. It has rescued civilians, put out fires and helped people evacuate.
Then there is the network of volunteer groups that has grown rapidly since the invasion, with many people wanting to express solidarity with the war effort.
It is not just the people who have proved resilient.
Ukraine’s transport infrastructure has also held up during the conflict, despite many direct attacks in it — and transportation can be a critical factor in any disaster response. When the Nova Kakhovka dam was breached on Tuesday, the government was able to evacuate people from the flood zone to the city of Mykolaiv by rail.
“Local civil society, authorities, the private sector — these things are underestimated in a crisis,” said Jan Egeland, secretary general of the Norwegian Refugee Council and a former United Nations humanitarian coordinator. “They are the first on the spot.”
Ukraine, Mr. Egeland said, has “more logistics, more trained personnel and more available in the market” for aid work.
On Thursday, the country’s president, Volodymyr Zelensky, called for a bigger global response to the destruction of the dam, which sent water from a reservoir cascading downstream. To date, the United Nations has distributed more than 100,000 bottles of water and provided food aid to 18,000 people and cash assistance to 3,500 people, according to Jens Laerke, a spokesman for its Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.
Conducting evacuations and providing clean water are among the most pressing needs in the flood zone, but the task has been complicated. Russian forces on the east bank of the Dnipro are still shelling areas under Ukrainian control. And there has also been unwillingness from some residents, who endured months of occupation followed by months under attack, to depart.
Selena Kozakijevic, the Ukraine area manager for CARE, the international aid organization, said that many of those who live near the river bank were elderly and suffered from ill health and disabilities.
“Many are still refusing to leave their homes, even if they are flooded,” she said. “This is a population that has been there since the start of the conflict.”
Even after the flooding subsides, people who choose to remain may face other risks for months or years, including from polluted water and land mines that have drifted from their original positions.
Ukrainian aid groups, as well as most international humanitarian organizations working in Ukraine, are staffed primarily with nationals who have the advantage of speaking the language, understanding the country and often knowing the affected locality intimately.
Ukrainian responders from the immediate vicinity, however, often face the additional challenge of being caught up in the very disaster to which they are responding.
Even the best-prepared countries often struggle to manage major disasters alone, Mr. Egeland said. He cited Turkey as an example of a country with a strong emergency preparedness sector that was nevertheless hard pressed to deal with the aftermath of an earthquake in February that killed nearly 60,000 people.
Much comes down to money.
Countries hit by disaster need financial aid both to tackle the immediate crisis and then to provide long-term support. In this respect, the international visibility that war has already brought to Ukraine has made it easier for aid groups to raise funds.
In a bid to draw attention to other crises in which large numbers of people have been forced from their homes, the Norwegian Refugee Council last week published a list of the world’s 10 most neglected displacement crises. All 10 countries were in Africa or Latin America, with Burkina Faso at the top of the list.