Mykhailo Semin, security manager at ADRA Ukraine, shares details.
— Mykhailo, as a security manager, could you tell us what risks the Adventist Development and Relief Agency in Ukraine’s employees are facing now?
– The full-scale war has created new dangers and challenges for ADRA Ukraine employees. To the existing general risks (such as, for example, risks related to transportation and movement), completely new, more serious ones have been added. These mainly include missile strikes, artillery shellfire, UAV attacks, dangers related to landmines and unexploded ordnance. Many of our volunteers and staff have to work in high-risk areas daily exposed to the shellfire: Kupiansk district of Kharkiv Region, river-bank areas of Kherson region, including the city of Kherson, which is shelled dozens of times a day.
— What steps are being taken to manage these risks?
– In order to control the above-mentioned risks, we first revisited ADRA Ukraine’s basic procedures. To start with, we focused the Safety and Security Plan, the basic document of any humanitarian organization concerning the safety of employees, the older version of which did not contain new types of hazards. We added threat response measures, preventive measures, revised the part about ADRA Ukraine’s leadership response to potential emergencies, the incident reporting procedure, etc.
The increased risk of radiation contamination and total blackout we faced in 2022 has prompted us to develop additional, more extensive response procedures in the event of a nuclear attack or incident at a nuclear power plant, as well as in the event of power outages.
For our main offices, which were at the highest risk of a security threat in case of further deterioration of the situation at the frontline, evacuation, relocation and hibernation (temporary office shutdown) plans were prepared, and the roles of officers responsible for evacuation were defined.
— What is being done from a practical point of view to improve security?
— First and foremost, we provide our employees with personal protective equipment: bulletproof vests and protective helmets. Anyone working in a high-risk area must use this equipment to improve their personal safety. It is also mandatory to carry an individual first aid kit, which contains a set of medical products to stop bleeding, which is the most common type of injury in a war zone. A tourniquet is a mandatory component of these first aid kits.
– Do employees know how to use these products? Do they receive training?
– Of course. Every employee who constantly works in high-risk areas, especially volunteers and field officers, should receive the first aid training. For example, ADRA Ukraine’s largest and most dangerous project in terms of the areas of operation is a project supported by the World Food Program (WFP), whose volunteers and coordinators in all sectors have received similar practical training from professional instructors. All the participants were trained on how to stop critical bleeding and do cardiopulmonary resuscitation.
– What else do your employees learn during the safety trainings?
– It all depends on the risks that certain employees may face. For example, we focus a lot of attention on landmine risk training. The scale of unexploded ordnance and mine contamination in Ukraine is currently the largest in the world. This is especially true for the de-occupied regions in the southeastern part of our country. That is why teams working in these areas regularly receive EORE (Explosive Ordnance Risk Education) training facilitated by our partners from other non-governmental organizations involved in humanitarian demining and public awareness campaigns. Today, we cooperate with the Halo Trust organization, which has high expertise in this field.
When the risk of an accident at the Zaporizhzhya NPP increased, a series of training sessions were organized on nuclear safety and actions to be taken in the event of radiation contamination. Employees were familiarized with decontamination measures, i.e. removal of contaminating particles and contaminated clothing from the body; basic measures to prevent particles from getting on the skin surface and into the body; and the use of medicines that minimize the effects of exposure to radiation particles.
For project managers and core specialists traveling to high-risk regions, we provide advanced security training facilitated br professional training organizations. In particular, INSO (International NGO Safety Organization) is currently conducting a series of four-day offline personal safety training sessions, which some of our managers have already attended. The feedback from the participants is very positive, so we will continue this practice in the future.
— And what do you do in order to ensure office security?
– First, we try to choose premises that have at least the most basic shelters or those where the “two-walls” rule could be observed. For example, in Kyiv and Bucha, our offices have semi-basement rooms where employees can hide during the air raids. In Dnipro, the office is located right next to the public shelter.
In order to minimize the risk of injury caused by glass shards scattered by the blast wave, we have covered windows with special protective film. We also keep a stock of water in our offices in case of hibernation and have purchased the stock of ready-to-eat food with long shelf-life.
In order to ensure uninterrupted operation, we have equipped our offices with satellite Internet systems and alternative power sources (generators, power banks, batteries), and, for example, purchased a professional radiation dosimeter for the office in Dnipro due to its relatively closeness to the ZNPP.
– What security challenges do the organization’s employees face in the field? How do you manage to solve them?
– For volunteers and field coordinators, the most common problem is finding humanitarian aid distribution points that have shelters in or near them. This is especially true in small towns or villages where such shelters simply do not exist, or the cost of renting a suitable space is inacceptable based on the budgets allocated by donors. If no such premises can be found, we make sure to install signs at each distribution point with the address of the nearest bomb shelter.
Another problem is that, unfortunately, during this war, the norms of international humanitarian law are very often violated and often the targets of attacks are employees of NGOs or premises used by humanitarian organizations as warehouses or offices. Our employees have also faced such precedents, having been repeatedly attacked in the course of their humanitarian missions, including by FPV drones. To prevent such incidents from happening, we try to increase the visibility of our employees’ affiliation with the charitable organization by using neutral-colored vests with ADRA inscriptions, humanitarian organization markings on cars, etc.
Also, the wide territorial coverage of our projects sometimes becomes a challenge for conducting offline trainings, as not all training organizations are ready to travel to remote regions of the country. However, we overcome this situation, including with the help of other non-governmental organizations (such as KoLeSo, Red Cross, UK-Med, etc.) and thus cover this need.