#Prepare EaP4Health – Civil Society’s COVID-19 Response

The current outbreak of the COVID-19 epidemic is a stress test, which reveals many political, economic and societal vulnerabilities of modern societies. At the same time, lessons learnt can be drawn and actions for improvement can be taken already now. This campaign aims to highlight the needs of six EaP countries to fight the outbreak of COVID-19, which has major impact on both – political and economic developments of the EU and EaP countries. Scroll through our activities and follow us on #PrepareEaP4Health

What is the current situation in the EaP region?

Foreign aid to the EaP region

Civil Society Initiatives

Armenia

Days following the first confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Armenia, the Armenian civil society launched its first rapid response initiatives, fundraising and advocacy campaigns. To help vulnerable groups of population, including elderly, minorities, students from unprivileged backgrounds, numerous EaP CSF members from Armenia mobilised new funds and services to meet the emerging needs created by the outbreak. They also raised their concerns over the media restrictions imposed by the authorities at the beginning of the outbreak (shortly revoked afterwards). There are numerous noteworthy initiatives that deserve to be mentioned and praised for their effectiveness. Only several of them are mentioned here.

Several civil society organisations highlighted the risks posed by the bills adopted at the end of March amending the laws on the “Legal Regime of the State of Emergency” and “Electronics Communication”.

  • Helsinki Citizens’ Assembly-Vanadzor and other EaP CSF members criticised the government for passing a bill that does not necessarily help prevent the spread of the virus, but imposes digital surveillance measures that will have major consequences on the state of democracy and data privacy in Armenia. 
  • The Yezidi Center for Human RIghts NGO is leading the civil society efforts in lobbying the authorities to translate public health information in all minority languages (including Greek, Yezidi and Assirian).

Several CSOs  and groups of citizens created new platforms of engagement matchmaking needs with volunteers willing to help.

  • APY (Armenian Progressive Youth), member of the National Platform,  was among the first organisations that launched a rapid response initiative and mobilised its volunteers to raise funds to support elderly/ unemployed people.
  • Ayo! – a fundraising platform from Armenia launched a COVID-19 emergency fund and managed to raise +40k EUR to help elderly people and those in need.
  • Teach for Armenia, current delegate of the Forum, launched a call to action regarding the digital divide faced by pupils and students. The aim is to raise 200k USD to help students from impoverished regions. The hashtag of the campaign is: #ՎերջԹվայինՄեկուսացմանը (#enddigitaldivide)

Azerbaijan

The civil society has repeatedly criticised the government of Azerbaijan for abusing the Covid-19 related restrictions. The independent civil society organisations focusing on human rights are monitoring the developments despite the complications and obstacles posed by the lockdown measures, bringing up the individual cases to the attention of the international community. The citizen-driven and CSO-driven initiatives focusing on fundraising and providing services and supplies namely to 65+ citizens who are forbidden to leave home unless working in health care have been emerging. The initiatives to supply the PPE – namely masks sewing, are also organised at local level.

  • The EaP CSF member, Election Monitoring and Democracies Study Center (EMDS) has been monitoring the human rights situation in the country despite lockdown measures in such a critical period. It issues a bulletin dedicated to the abuse of  Covid-19 lockdown measures against political opponents and civic activists in Azerbaijan.

While most of the donations and charity actions have to go through official channels (government and governmental foundations), there are ad hoc citizen-driven initiatives: eg. individual donations (money, food, food deliveries for +65) as well as CSO-driven initiatives aimed at helping those in need with monthly groceries. These initiatives are based on crowdfunding.

Belarus

In the situation when the highest authorities continue to deny the gravity of the situation with COVID-19 in Belarus, civil society and business are mobilising to help medical personnel and vulnerable populations. The initiatives are cooperating with the Ministry of Health and Ministry of Foreign Affairs and delivering help to hospitals and vulnerable populations directly. Thousands of people mobilise, buy, produce, sew, distribute and donate to help the medical personnel of the country. This happens while the authorities continue to harass independent journalists and bloggers, press the participants of the peaceful protests against deeper integration with Russia that took place in late 2019 to pay exorbitant fines, and refuse to amend the draconian regulation on foreign aid that limits possibilities for crowd-funding, including from the diaspora. There are numerous noteworthy citizens’ initiatives that have emerged, we mention just several of them.  

  • #BYCOVID19 campaign that unites a number of volunteers and NGOs helps to support the hospitals and medical personnel around the country with nesseacry equipment. As of April 27 they raised more than 200k EUR. A number of volunteers and CSOs on voluntary basis provide help on technical and legal matters to #BYCOVID19 and other COVID-related initatives. One of such examples is a member of the EaP CSF Center of Legal Transformation Lawtrend. 
  • Mission complete: Hackerspace closes producing protective equipment for doctors: The Minsk Hackerspace team believes that they have addressed the urgent needs of Belarusian doctors at the very start of the pandemic. As a result, instead of the planned 1,5K protective shields, the project produced 40K shields, 1,2K masks-snorkels, and over 6,5K overalls – thus, 456 hospitals and clinics in 142 Belarusian locations received help.
  • NGO Radislava that maintains the only round the clock refuge for victims of domestic violence in Belarus is receiving an increased number of requests for supporting the victims of abuse. It has launched the petition on development of the law against domestic violence and conducts a fundraising campaign to provide shelter to more victims.

Georgia

With the lowest number of infections across the EaP region, Georgia has been praised internationally for its timely preventive measures and crisis management capacity to handle the outbreak. While Russian occupying forces have continued “illegal borderisation” in the regions of Georgia, the country is ready to provide medical help to all its citizens.

CSOs and ad-hoc groups of citizens organised themselves via Social Media (#beawareofeachother,  #dogood, etc.) encouraging others to donate or volunteer in their communities.  

  • Let’s help the elderly Facebook group with more than 30 000 members has raised impressive amounts.
  • “Unity” is a matchmaking platform put in place by several CSO and trade organisations from Georgia that brings together the offer (specialised professionals willing to volunteer) with the demand (those in need).  They have already gathered 1200 volunteers and +2500 requests for support.

Several CSOs offer their online services to students coming from impoverished backgrounds, minorities, SMEs, LGBTQ, etc.

  • “Give internet” raises funds to buy internet subscriptions and devices to students who otherwise will not be able to follow their classes.  They collaborate with grassroot organisations across the country to reach out to those in need.

CSOs are working to provide verified information to the ethinic minorities in Georgia.

  • “Salam”, an organisation from Eastern Georgia is producing informative posters about COVID-19 for the Azerbaijani community.
  • The Institute for Development and Freedom of Information has developed a manual dedicated to public authorities with recommendations regarding the type of data that should be made public during the outbreak. The manual was developed in partnership with GRASS – Georgia Reforms’ Associates and was distributed across the international community.

Moldova

With the record number of medical personnel infected by COVID, the main concerns of the CSOs and informal civil intiatives are how to protect the doctors and nurses and support the vulnerable population. 

  • The EaP CSF member PromoLex launched a petition signed by numerous CSOs from Moldova requesting the governmental authorities to increase the level of protection of medical workers treating COVID-19 patients in the country (massive testing for medical workers, availability of protective equipment, etc). 
  • Civil society requested the cancellation of unnecessary public tenders opened by the Mayor office of Chisinau for the purchase of carpets, cars and the building of a public fountain.
  • The Association for the Empowerment of Children and Families AVE Copii has been providing, for three weeks, accommodation services to the medical staff involved in the fight against COVID-19 from the anesthesiology and resuscitation service at the Institute of Emergency Medicine. The association provided part of its headquarters with kitchen, shower room, heating, separate rooms, rest room, all the household appliances necessary for medical workers to rest and to protect from infection families and relatives of medical staff who fight in the front line.
  • Soros-Moldova Foundation allocated the first tranche of 100k USD to support the fight with the new COVID-19 pandemic. The money will be directed primarily to doctors, social workers, police officers and all those in difficulty during this period. The Foundation will also provide protective equipment: masks, gloves and sanitizing solutions to those who are exposed to an increased risk of infection, but do not have them.

Civil society organisations have also been monitoring the respect of rule of law and democratic rights during the state of emergency.

  • The Audiovisual Council of Moldova has cancelled the disposition that stated that journalists have to give up opinions, and only truthful information is those published by the authorities. This decision was cancelled after several media NGOs and the EaP CSF National Platform of Moldova came up with a public call, criticizing the issued disposition.
  • IPRE and CRJM experts have presented the Opinion on the proportionality and legality of the measures taken by the Government during the state of emergency.
  • The Centre for journalist investigation and anticorruption launched a public petition calling out the actions of the police in Tiraspol which make it difficult to fight COVID19.
  • The Moldovan NGO Stop Fals compiled a list of disinformation news articles related to COVID-19 and is monitoring the situation to ensure proper and accurate information. 
  • The Alliance of Small Enterprises from Moldova, the Association of Women Entrepreneurs from Moldova, the Creative Industries Association in Moldova and the National Association of Restaurants and Leisure Centres called the authorities for urgent measures to be taken to support the business environment in the context of the global pandemic of COVID-19, advocating on behalf of SMEs.

Ukraine

With underfunded hospitals and a weak health and social system unable to cope with the consequences of the pandemic, Ukrainian civil society activists and individual business owners stepped up to support regional hospitals, medical staff, and vulnerable categories of the population across the country. A big number of  initiatives has emerged, for example:  

  • Starenki is the first social charity initiative dedicated to dignified ageing in Ukraine (addressing mostly people from Kiev, Lviv and Dnipro). During the outbreak, the organisation raised funds for product kits and medical kits (masks and thermometers) that were delivered to elderly population.  
  • The organisation “Patients of Ukraine” started a fundraising campaign dedicated to supporting medical staff and hospitals in the fight against Covid-19. The campaign, “United in the fight against Coronavirus” (Об’єднуємося в боротьбі проти коронавірусу!) managed to raise 4 million UAH (ca. 134k EUR) to purchase protective equipment for medical staff, ventilators, portable X-ray devices and test kits. Beside this ongoing fundraising campaign, the organisation is closely monitoring the performance of the authorities in managing the crisis and the expenses made to mitigate its consequences. 

The media and civil society have stepped up in providing the public with reliable, independent and up-to-date information during the pandemic. 

  • Prometheus & Платформа INgenius joined forces and created a free online course that aims at providing reliable information and debunking common myths about the infection with COVID-19. 
  • Media Reforms Center (MRC) is already well-known in Ukraine and beyond for its flagship project “Stop Fake”. During the outbreak of the pandemic, the organisation has constantly tried to unveil fake news, debunk myths and raise awareness about the digital tools and channels used to spread fear and conspiracy theories. 

CSOs are trying to help the populations living in Eastern Ukraine, the territory that was ravaged by six years of armed conflict with a sizable eldery population. Due to their advocacy and awareness raising campaigns, CSOs remain key players in informing and advising international stakeholders about the critical condition of the population in Ukraine’s occupied territories. 

  • At the end of March, the charity foundation Vostok SOS conducted a monitoring mission to the Luhansk region to determine the preparedness of medical institutions and state administrations for the pandemic. Vostok SOS noted, among other things, the critical shortage of medical staff and medical supplies and the limited awareness of medical staff about the procedures that need to be followed after identifying patients with COVID-19. Vostok SOS produced a report in which it introduces numerous recommendations addressed to authorities and civil society from the region to help those in need. 
  • Crimea SOS launched a public appeal in which they called international organisations and United Nations agencies to pay attention to the precarious condition of prisoners in Crimean and Donbas region penitentiaries, where the WHO recommendations regarding COVID-19 are disregarded by the authorities. The appeal was endorsed by more than 140 Ukrainian CSOs.

EaP CSF Podcast

NEW!  

COVID-19 in uncontrolled territories of Ukraine (English)

The outbreak of coronavirus in Ukraine has also had implications on the uncontrolled territories of Ukraine. Hanna Shelest is taking stocks on how coronavirus put pay to international expectations for settlement in Donbas conflict, what Kyiv is doing to help the residents of the uncontrolled territories, and how the COVID-19 outbreak will impact the post-pandemic government of Ukraine. 

Freedom of speech in Moldova (English)

In Moldova, the National Platform of the EaP Civil Society Forum managed to revert the decision of the Audio-Visual Council of the Republic of Moldova to severely restrict freedom of speech. Ion Guzun shared with us what role civil society played in this process.

State of Democracy in Azerbaijan (English)

In response to COVID-19 pandemic Azerbaijani authorities introduced strict measures of lockdown for citizens. While such measures are necessary, Rasul Jafarov finds that their scope and implementation on the side of the authorities clearly transgress and violate the principle of rule of law, and the citizens’ human rights.

Civil society actions in Belarus (English)

While the highest authorities continue to deny the gravity of the situation with COVID-19 in Belarus, civil society and business are mobilising to help medical personnel and vulnerable populations. Our guest, Andrij Stryzhak, outlined a fast rapprochement of civil society and businesses, which might yield fruitful results in the future.

Civil society actions in Belarus (Russian)

While the highest authorities continue to deny the gravity of the situation with COVID-19 in Belarus, civil society and business are mobilising to help medical personnel and vulnerable populations. Our guest, Andrij Stryzhak, outlined a fast rapprochement of civil society and businesses, which might yield fruitful results in the future.

Civil Society concerns

Contact us

Follow us via #PrepareEap4Health

Juulia Baer-Bader

Communications Manager
Email: info@eap-csf.eu
Tel: +32 2 893 25 85


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