Ukraine Humanitarian Needs Overview 2019




An estimated 5.2 million people bear the brunt of the armed conflict in eastern Ukraine. Even after four years of active hostilities, there is no immediate resolution in sight to end the suffering of the affected population, 3.5 million of whom require humanitarian assistance and protection due to widespread mine contamination, escalating psychological trauma and the degrading impact of the lack of access to basic services. Most people in need live in the conflict-affected oblasts of Donetska and Luhanska divided by the 427-kilometre-long ‘contact line’, which is equivalent to the length of the French-German border. The ‘contact line’ has also been the theatre of active hostilities which took the lives of over 3,000 civilians and injured approximately 9,000 since 2014. For three consecutive years, Ukraine has had more anti-vehicle mine incidents than any other country, which together with other mine-related incidents and the mishandling of explosive remnants of war (ERW) accounted for more than 40 per cent of civilian casualties in 2017 and 2018.1 Crossings of the ‘contact line’ through the five official checkpoints increased by 15 per cent in 2018 compared to 2017, with an average of 1.1 million crossings each month – over half of which were made by the elderly aged over 60. Freezing temperatures during Ukraine’s harsh winter further exacerbate the humanitarian situation, along with restrictions on and unpredictability of humanitarian access as well as diminishing or limited livelihood opportunities. Women and the elderly are disproportionately affected and increasingly prone to risks of abuse, exploitation and neglect. The elderly account for 30 per cent of those in need, which is the highest proportion of any crisis in the world, and constitute over half of those who are food insecure. Their higher rates of disability and immobility make them more vulnerable to economic insecurity. The situation is aggravated by administrative hurdles they face when accessing their entitlements, especially pensions. This increasingly difficult situation continues to force people to make impossible choices to meet their basic needs, and to keep their heads above water at the expense of their dignity and future.


1. Direct Impact of Hostilities

Civilians face serious risks to their safety, wellbeing and basic rights due to ongoing hostilities and the proliferation of landmines and ERW. In Government-controlled areas (GCA), an estimated two million people are exposed to landmine risks, with 70 per cent of families changing their behaviors or daily habits to avoid them. The presence and impact of landmine and ERW on civilians in non-Government controlled areas (NGCA) remain difficult to ascertain due to the lack of credible data, but the situation is estimated to be serious. The conflict's impact is most severely felt in areas closest to the ‘contact line’, where one in three families are afraid to send their children to school due to security concerns. International Humanitarian Law is constantly violated, with indiscriminate attacks against critical civilian structures, which often causes disruption of essential services such as water supply to civilians on both sides of the ‘contact line’. Almost five years of shelling and hostilities have heightened psychological distress among all age groups, with children and adolescents most affected. With 1.5 million registered IDPs living in a situation of protracted displacement, a whole-of-government approach is required to urgently implement the recently-adopted Action Plan of the Government’s national IDP Strategy. Civil documentation is a rising concern, with 57 per cent of births in NGCA unregistered and risking statelessness. The Mine Action Law recently adopted by the Cabinet of Ministers of Ukraine is a welcoming step to scale up the much-needed humanitarian mine action.

2. Disrupted Services

Well into its fifth year, the armed conflict in eastern Ukraine continues to place relentless pressure on critical civilian structures and services in and near conflict-affected areas. The lives of millions of people living in Donetska and Luhanska oblasts have had to be re-organised, placing additional burdens on already over-stretched services, such as health, education, water, electricity and heating. The conflict impacts the proximity and access of services. Along the ‘contact line’, schools regularly come under fire, affecting the education and wellbeing of thousands of children and teachers. Water supply systems are often damaged. In 2018, the cost of chlorine gas essential for water treatment increased three times. Frequent water shortages, coupled with Ukraine's low immunisation rates, also increase the risk of communicable diseases. Tuberculosis (TB) is highly endemic to Ukraine and remains a concern, in particular multi-drug resistant TB. This is concerning in a situation of high mobility and scanty healthcare services. With two-thirds of health facilities in areas closest to the ‘contact line’ damaged, 38 per cent of households report lacking access to health-care services. The elderly suffer from chronic health conditions that require regular life-saving medicines.

3. Lack of Livelihoods and erosion of coping mechanisms

The conflict has paralysed economic activity in Ukraine’s once-thriving industrial region, seriously impacting wellbeing and living standards of people. Unemployment in the conflict-affected oblasts has increased over the past four years and is higher than in the rest of the country. Rural families’ access to farmland is severely curtailed due to widespread mine contamination. They spend over 20 per cent of their limited income on heating, and their food consumption scores are nearly halved during winter. IDPs and host communities face additional economic strain. IDPs struggle to access social benefits, such as pensions, that many of them heavily rely on to survive. Almost five years of the conflict, vulnerable people are increasingly forced to buy food on credit, cut health expenditures, or resort to begging. Loss of income and lack of livelihood opportunities are the second main concern among conflict-affected communities, which is closely correlated with increased alcohol and drug use, particularly among young people. This has contributed to the increase in domestic violence. One in five elderly people living along the ‘contact line’ reported experiencing at least one type of violence and abuse, 76 per cent being women. People living close to the ‘contact line’ have a more pessimistic outlook regarding job opportunities and have a sense of isolation and even abandonment due to the poor state of the transportation network and several basic public services.

4 Curtailed freedom of movement and restricted access

While there has been slight progress in reaching more people in need in 2018, access in NGCA and along the ‘contact line’ remains unpredictable and restricted due to bureaucratic impediments, insecurity and logistical challenges. People’s freedom of movement and ability to access humanitarian goods, basic services and their social entitlements and pension remains constrained. While infrastructures have improved at all five official checkpoints in GCA, thousands of families continue to face long delays in undignified conditions, and risks from the hostilities and landmines. Half of those who cross are more than 60 years old, with the majority being female. In Luhanska oblast, freedom of movement remains severely constrained as only one rickety pedestrian crossing point serves the entire region. Negotiations to open additional checkpoints in Luhanska oblast have been stalled for over three years. Humanitarian access to people in need, particularly in NGCA, remains not only unpredictable but also not enough to scale up the response to meet the volume and breadth of critical humanitarian needs. Persistent underfunding over the past years has delayed, disrupted and led to the discontinuation of critical humanitarian activities.


UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
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