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In February, what was once a vibrant cinema aired its last film for the foreseeable future. Overnight, the building had a new purpose: to serve thousands of people fleeing their homes from conflict.
Imagine your local cinema: popcorn brewing; tickets printing; and the thrill of the next blockbuster in the air. “Oscar nominated, apparently”, you whisper to your friend. Now imagine it deserted. The seats filled with packages instead of people; the popcorn machine eerily quiet; and instead of excitement for the next big movie hit, there is a buzz of internally displaced people (IDPs) waiting to be registered for emergency assistance.
That is what happened, overnight, at a cinema in Ukraine. Since 24 February 2022, instead of showing films, this cinema has served as a city hub for IDPs. At the time of writing in November 2022, the hub has served over 250,000 people who have had to leave their homes.
Here you can see one of the last films to be shown. A moment, stopped in time.
How the hub works
Valentyna* is the deputy head of the city hall’s computer centre – a job she still does alongside being the city hub coordinator. Most people working here are working two jobs, their old and new since the hub opened.
Activities at the centre are mainly:
- Humanitarian aid distribution;
- Consultation about accommodation in the area;
- Meal provision;
- Employment opportunities and social benefits.
They are also offering training for IDPs in:
- Foreign languages
- Ukrainian language
- Psychosocial support
The centre acted as a clothing hub at one point but that has since moved. Here, humanitarian aid comprises food items, hygiene items and kits, and household items such as bedding, duvets and blankets.
Initially, the hub was open 24 hours a day due to the level of demand. On 7 and 8 March 2022, the centre was receiving up to 7,000 people a day. “We were feeding [IDPs] around the clock”, Valentyna explains. There was also a large number of volunteers working, and around the city, there were volunteer hubs where people could stay temporarily for a few days.
A vital contact point
Now, opening hours are 8am – 8pm. Although the number of volunteers and IDPs registering has decreased over time, the hub continues to be a vital contact point, and the remaining volunteers are extremely busy.
Valentyna explains: “We always have a person on duty here on the phone acting as a consultant for people.” There are also ‘registers’ for people coming to register as IDPs and someone calling families to let them know there are food kits ready for them to collect.
People can also call the centre to request items they need, leave their number, and once the hub has the item, they call them back and let them know they can come and get it.
The future of the hub-turned-cinema
Despite its success, the hub is still in need of assistance to supply the ongoing demand as the conflict continues. “There is an urgent need for hygiene kits”, Valentyna explains.
Concern joined with German non-government organisation Welthungerhilfe and Italian humanitarian organisation Cesvi to operate the Joint Emergency Response in Ukraine (JERU). This programme has already provided kits to 1,000 families to this hub alone.
However, Valentyna remains hopeful: “We have a dream that [one day] we will gather here and watch a film again.”
“There is no other way for now. We have started these activities, and we need to finish it on a positive note. Of course, it is hard, and it was especially hard during the first days because people were coming and we did not know how to calm them down. Their morale was very low because they were sort of in a trance. But we need to keep working and remain optimistic.”
Overall, JERU has directly supported 22 Collective centres with a different range of items such as washing machines and tumble dryers, mattresses, pillows, bedding and hygiene items.
*Names changed to protect the identity of individuals
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