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Ukrainian Red Cross Society Tracing Service: Challenges and Regional cooperation

The Ukrainian Red Cross Society (URCS) works today in the field of Restoring Family Links (RFL) including cases ranging from the WWII to current challenges such as massive migrations. For tens of thousands of people, the Red Cross and Red Crescent tracing services remain today the only hope.
Mrs. Irina Tsariuk, head of the URCS Tracing Department, explains the role and activities of the URCS as a member of the RFL network.

Why is family separation a problem in Ukraine? How widespread is it and what challenges do you face in helping such families? 

The situation in the world today is very unstable. Some people are searching for a better life; others are fleeing war or violence. Ukraine is often used as a transit country. Because of mass migration, people can lose contact with members of their family and some, as a result, come to suffer acute psychological stress.
And that’s not all. Migrants are sometimes arrested and detained. If they don't have any ID papers, they are detained for even longer. As the Red Cross is not entitled to provide legal counsel to migrants held in detention, we have to find a different way to help them. So we started helping migrants to get new ID papers or copies of old ones. This speeds up their release from what is otherwise a highly stressful six to eight-month period of detention.  

Mrs. Irina Tsariuk, head of the URCS Tracing Department
© Ukrainian Red Cross Society

In addition, we help vulnerable migrants meet their basic needs. We give them hygiene kits and appropriate clothes and shoes if they’ve travelled from warmer climes. 

We also help them to re-establish contact with members of their family by phone or Red Cross message.
As migrants often ask us about their legal status or the asylum process, we work with local and international organizations, such as the UNHCR and the International Organization for Migration, to arrange legal counsel. Sometimes we need interpreters for migrants who speak rare languages like Farsi or Dari. Luckily we can turn to friends from language faculties in universities here and the problem is quickly solved.

Is there a regional dimension to family separation? How do you work with the other National Societies in your region?

This problem extends far beyond Ukraine or even the region. It's part of a global trend. In this respect, we have a certain advantage – the Global Restoring Family Links Network. I think it's something really unique and specific to the Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement, and I would like to express my sincere gratitude to our partners, working in other tracing agencies abroad, for giving us their whole-hearted support.  

Which National Societies do you work most regularly with?

As you know, the geographical position of Ukraine is quite special. In the east, Ukraine shares a border with Russia and in the west, Slovakia, Romania, Poland and Hungary. So, we mainly work with the National Societies from these countries. However, we have also noticed that many migrants are travelling via Ukraine to Scandinavian countries, so we regularly forward our tracing requests to their National Societies as well. 
In your opinion, what does the RFL programme mean to people? Could you share some examples from personal experience that have made a lasting impression on you?

The URCS Tracing Service is 20 years old now. Many of the members have worked here for all of those 20 years, and I’m sure that in that time they’ve developed a kind of "tracing intuition."

We have to be scrupulously professional; all the letters we receive start with the phrase "Please help us find our relative. You are our last hope." It’s hard but we can’t allow ourselves to get too emotionally involved.

Having said that, we are lucky enough to witness reunions of relatives who have not seen each other for years. A few years ago, we managed to help reunite two sisters who had not seen each other for 63 years. They stood in front of each other, and just stared into each other’s eyes. It was as if they were inside a big glass bubble, protected from the surrounding camera flashes of the media. They just stood and held each other's hands, saying nothing and seeing nothing else around them: just enjoying one of the most unforgettable moments of their lives!

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