April 2016 As the armed conflict in Ukraine enters its third year, it has disappeared from global media front-pages. However, the human suffering in Ukraine is real and the protracted crisis continues to trigger new humanitarian needs every day. Here are 10 things you need to know:
A PROTRACTED CRISIS – The humanitarian crisis in Ukraine continues to be a full-blown, protracted humanitarian emergency. While humanitarian aid is still needed in certain places, other needs have changed over two years of conflict. Relief, recovery and development intervention need to take place – urgently – at the same time. According to International Humanitarian Law (IHL), the Government is the primary responsible for all its citizens, wherever they are located within the internationally recognized borders of Ukraine. De facto authorities in Luhansk and Donetsk also bear responsibilities, according to IHL. The humanitarian community continues to engage with all partners – including the authorities – to support those in need. While Aid agencies are fully committed to helping the most vulnerable, a political solution to the conflict is the only way to stop human suffering, and bring back dignity to the many affected.
DEAD AND INJURED – Lives continue to be lost on daily basis. Since the conflict started two years ago, fighting has never ceased completely. Shelling and clashes increased in recent weeks and months. More than 9,200 people have been killed to date, among them some 2,000 civilians. More than 21,000 people have been injured. Many more are traumatised.
PEOPLE IN NEED – Two years into the conflict, 3.1 million Ukrainians are in need of humanitarian assistance, making this one of the 10 biggest humanitarian crises worldwide. People need protection, shelter, food, access to safe water, health care, markets and education, among others. In 2016, the humanitarian community – including national and international partners – will continue to strive to assist 2.5 million among the most vulnerable: the elderly, the children, women-headed households, and people with disabilities. Most of the people in need live in areas beyond Government control or along the ‘contact line’.
HUMANITARIAN RESPONSE – To address the most pressing needs of people affected by the crisis in Ukraine, the humanitarian community requested US$ 298 million from donors to support the projects of 147 partner organisations, the large majority of which are national NGOs. In 2016, humanitarian partners strive to supply more than 500,000 of the most vulnerable people with food assistance, ensure water supply and sanitation services for 1.7 million people and provide shelter for 300,000 people. More than 2.5 million people need protection, including full and non-discriminatory access to quality essential services and enjoyment of their rights. This is particularly true for those living in non-Government controlled areas. Humanitarian actors will continue to carry out protection monitoring, advise and advocate for much needed improvement of relevant legislation and improve social cohesion and resilience of people impacted by the conflict.
‘CONTACT LINE’ AS A DE FACTO BORDER – The frontline between Government-controlled areas and non-Government-controlled areas in eastern Ukraine resembles more and more a border. The Government of Ukraine put in place a ‘pass system’ for people and prohibited commercial goods and public transport across the ‘contact line’ in 2015. However, hundreds of thousands of people living in areas beyond Government control regularly need to cross the line in order to access their social payments, pensions, their savings and basic services, buy food, medication and other goods. On average, about half a million crossings are registered every month through the few operating checkpoints. More crossing points are needed, especially in Luhanska oblast, to soothe the hardship for the civilians striving to survive amidst unnecessary suffering.
ELDERLY AND CHILDREN – One of the characteristics that distinguish the humanitarian crisis in Ukraine from other crises around the world is the huge number of elderly people affected. More than one million of the 1.76 million registered internally displaced persons are pensioners, many of them live in non-Government controlled areas or in ‘no man’s land’, while most of the younger family members have left the area. Yet, the conflict in Ukraine has also deeply impacted the lives of some 580,000 children living in non-Government controlled areas and close to the ‘contact line’. Of these, 200,000, or one in three, need psycho-social support. One out of five schools in the conflict areas has been damaged or destroyed in and around the contact lines and over 215,000 children displaced in other parts of the country need a fuller integration in their new learning environment.
DISPLACED PERSONS – Hundreds of thousands have been displaced by the armed conflict in eastern Ukraine and the annexation of the peninsula of Crimea. As of April 2016, the Government registered a total of 1.78 million internally displaced persons (IDPs). This number includes Ukrainian citizens living in non-Government controlled areas who regularly cross the ‘contact line’ to access social payments and basic services and markets, visit family members and properties. These people, most of them pensioners, have registered as IDPs since existing laws link payments of benefits and pensions to the IDP status. Yet, in February 2016 the Government suspended payments to an estimated 600,000 IDPs in order to verify their status, owing to suspect of fraud schemes. The humanitarian community called upon the Government to stop suspension and elaborate a scheme on prevention of fraud based on national and international human rights standards, ensure a transparent system that provides clear information about the criteria for any cancellation of benefits, and proper communication to those concerned.
HEALTH –Access to key health services is a major problem for people living in areas beyond Government control. Health care issues hit the hardest the most vulnerable groups like the elderly, persons with disabilities and people with chronic illnesses, especially those living with HIV, TB, cancer, hepatitis, diabetes or serious infectious diseases. Donetska oblast used to be an epicentre of the HIV epidemic in Ukraine even before the conflict started. In addition, Ukraine has seen a polio outbreak in 2015, and the UN provided technical support to a countrywide vaccination campaign and procured polio vaccines for 4.7 million children.
INFRASTRUCTURE – The ongoing conflict continues to impact civilian infrastructure. The provision of water, gas and electricity, which are inter-connected and provide services across the contact line, remain at risk. Some locations continue to experience significant service disruptions, affecting not only reliable supply of water for human consumption and domestic use, but also for heating. In March 2016, the Donetsk Water Treatment Station suspended operation for several days when staff had to be evacuated after shelling occurred in the area. Impact on the supply of water was almost immediately felt for 30,000 people living in Avdiivka (GCA) and parts of Yasynuvata (NGCA) – locations with very limited emergency water storage capacities. A greater humanitarian crisis was averted as the treatment station has resumed functioning on 17 March, following intense negotiations led by OSCE.
EXPLOSIVES AND LANDMINES – Large areas of Donetska and Luhanska oblasts are left with deadly explosive remnants of war (ERW) including landmines. Between 15 February 2015 and April 2016, at least 289 civilian casualties (73 killed and 216 injured) were caused by ERW and improvised explosive devices (IED). This is more than a third of all conflict-related civilian casualties recorded by the UN human Rights Monitoring Mission during that period. Mine contamination-related threats are of particular concern in the planting season as many fields, woods and pastures are littered with explosive devices. The same refers to the fields close to the checkpoints where civilians often go for sanitation needs or as they attempt to circumvent the official checkpoints to cross the contact line. Mine action, demarcation of minefields, mine risk education and removal of ordnances are crucial to avoid further casualties and suffering.