Ukraine: Protection Assessment of Isolated Settlements in Government-Controlled Areas Along the Contact Line, February, 2019
The protracted nature of the conflict in Ukraine has created a widespread humanitarian crisis, with 3.5 million people in need of humanitarian aid after more than five years of armed hostilities. Additionally, there has been large-scale displacement from government and non-government controlled areas (GCA and NGCA respectively) of Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts, with the Ministry of Social Policy reporting 1.4 million internally displaced persons (IDPs) registered as of February 2019. The contact line that divides these two areas continues to separate urban centres in the NGCA from their peripheral towns and villages in the GCA, transforming areas that were once the outskirts of large cities into isolated, hard-to-reach areas. Such isolated settlements are fully or partially cut off from surrounding areas due to the contact line, checkpoints, landmine/unexploded ordnance (UXO) contamination and poor road conditions.
In 2018, 66% of armed clashes within the GCA occurred in the assessed isolated settlements. The concentrated nature of the conflict means that residents of these settlements are at particularly high physical risk. As a result, many of these settlements have experienced significant depopulation due to displacement of residents; REACH estimates that the overall population has declined by 38% from 97,600 prior to the conflict to approximately 69,000 at the time of assessment, including the departure of a significant proportion of younger people. Although the NGCA contains similarly isolated settlements, they were outside the scope of this assessment.
Accessing these hard-to-reach settlements also presents higher security risk and logistical challenges for humanitarian actors. Insecurity prevented access to several settlements during the survey, and these conditions also constrict the flow of assistance to these locations.
This assessment was commissioned by European Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations (ECHO) to investigate the specific protection concerns of residents of such isolated settlements, and to understand the drivers and consequences of these issues. To achieve this, REACH partnered with the Ukraine Protection Cluster and United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in research design, analysis and reporting to maximise the operational utility of the findings for humanitarian organisations engaged in protection programming.
The assessment utilised a mixed-methodology approach, including a quantitative survey of 1,474 households (HH) in 53 isolated settlements along the contact line including a total of 3,109 household members. The assessed area was stratified by oblast and by urban/rural characteristics of the settlements, with results generalisable in isolated settlements in Donetsk and Luhansk Oblasts (urban and rural settlements) with a 95% confidence level and 5% margin of error. Primary data collection also included 30 focus group discussions (FGDs) with vulnerable populations, 107 key informant interviews (KIIs) and 46 direct observation workshops conducted by REACH enumerators and partner members of the Protection Cluster including Istok, Proliska, Save the Children, HelpAge International and the International Medical Corps.
Vulnerable demographic of residents
The study found isolated settlements to have a high concentration of vulnerable persons: 41% of household members were over the age of 60, and 13% had a disability. Such proportions may relate to the fact that people of working age have been able to leave, while older, more vulnerable people are less likely to be able to afford relocation and cost of living in safer areas. Indeed, residents of the assessed settlements were more than twice as likely to be over the age of 60 than were IDPs as assessed by International Organization for Migration (IOM) across Ukraine,4 and just less than twice as likely to be over the age of 60 than the overall population of Ukraine. 5 Correspondingly, households in isolated settlements were significantly smaller than the national average (average of 2.1 members in isolated settlements and average of 2.66 nationally). Isolated settlements also had a higher proportion of women, 61% of household members compared to 56% in the area within 20km of the contact line and a correspondingly lower proportion of children, with 14% of household members under the age of 18 in isolated settlements and 18% in the 20km area.
Many household members also reported experiencing overlapping vulnerabilities, particularly relating to older people with chronic illness, but also older people with disabilities and to a certain extent overlapping vulnerability relating to unemployment and chronic illness (Figure 1). Such overlapping vulnerabilities compound risk factors as often persons with multiple vulnerabilities require additional social support. However, in isolated settlements, the provision of services is curtailed as a result of insecurity and inaccessibility; thus, those who need support the most are less likely to receive it.