Near Ukraine’s front lines, food and friends ease the icy months ahead | Catch My Job


Natalia and her neighbors are not joking as the boom of shelling continuously echoes through her cozy living room. With the war in Ukraine now in its eighth month, they are used to it.

Natalia (2nd from left) and her neighbors have decided to stay put – near the front line. Photo: WFP/Edmond Khoury

They have decided to stay in the center of Slovakia, in the eastern region of Donetsk – just a few kilometers from the front line.

“Until peace is seen on the battlefield, I will continue to find it between the four walls of my home,” said Natalia, in her mid-50s.

“This is our order now,” he adds, referring to the gathering of the neighbors. “All we have left here is each other.”

There are few other comforts these days – except World Food Program (WFP) food for Ukrainians like them, who chose to stay close to the front lines.

Targeting more than two million people living in areas affected by fighting and other unrest, the monthly WFP rations include wheat flour, pasta, sunflower oil, tinned meat and other essentials.

The aid is part of a flexible mix of food and cash that WFP uses to support vulnerable people – even as we face a US$ 690 million funding shortfall ahead of winter.

Apart from those staying put, the rations also support people returning home – often due to a lack of money and other resources to stay in safer places.

Natalia cooks a favorite pasta dish using WFP food. Photo: WFP/Edmond Khoury

“I have never relied on humanitarian aid in my life,” says Natalia, “but the food I receive lifts a huge burden and protects us from starvation.”

The rations are essential in places like Sloviansk, where fighting has overwhelmed commercial supply chains, preventing communities from reliably accessing nutritious foods.

They will become even more important as cold weather approaches, putting more stress on the already precarious existence of many families here. Ukrainian winters are usually harsh, with temperatures dropping as low as -20 degrees Celsius.

Always a way

For Natalia, who lives with her husband and mother-in-law – and who recently lost her job at a medical clinic which was her only source of income – WFP rations are especially welcome.

Natalia receives regular updates from her daughter and grandson in Warsaw. Photo: WFP/Edmond Khoury

After the war started at the end of February, Natalia’s daughter and grandson left for Poland. They send her regular updates, but she ignores them.

“They’re safe in Warsaw and that’s the only thing that matters right now. They keep insisting that I join them, but I don’t want to leave,” she said of her home in Sloviansk, where she has lived since 1967.

“I spoke my first words, watched my family grow, and collected unforgettable memories,” he said, adding, “I was born here, and I will wait until peace reigns.”

Furthermore, she says, “even if I left, the rent to live somewhere else would be too expensive. Prices are going up, and I can’t keep up.”

The shrinking options make Natalia’s group of neighbors even more important.

“We have grown into one community. We always think of each other as we cook food, prepare our pantries for the winter, and get water from the well,” said Natalia, as she squeezed the hand of one of her friends.

Natalia (R) and her mother-in-law at their home in Sloviansk. Photo: WFP/Edmond Khoury

Still, the cold weather will bring additional challenges. Even during peacetime, winters usually saw families like Natalia’s spend a greater proportion of their limited income on heat, warm clothing and other non-food expenses. Today, rising food and fuel prices put some of these necessities out of reach.

But Natalia and her neighbors have discovered some backups.

“This year, we’re relying mostly on electricity,” he said, “but if that’s not an option, we’ll cut down trees and split wood to keep warm.”

The neighbors also plan to invite each other over and share key basics like food, “so that we all stay warm and healthy during the winter,” he said. “There is always a way.”

Read more about WFP’s response in Ukraine


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