Ukraine: Humanitarian Dashboard
SITUATION OVERVIEW Despite repeated ceasefire arrangements, the security situation in eastern Ukraine remained volatile, with daily hostilities and ceasefire violations continuing in multiple locations along the ‘contact line’. In late January, heavy fighting intensified in Avdiivka – Yasynuvata – Donetsk area and spilled into February.
The sudden spike of hostilities triggered not only loss of lives, but also concerns around protection of civilians and the concurrent, sustained damages of critical civilian infrastructure. According to OHCHR, some 182 civilian casualties were reported over the first quarter of 2017, compared to 88 during the same period last year, representing an increase of 52 per cent. The sudden uptick of hostilities caused widespread damage to housing and other critical civilian infrastructures, particularly electricity and water supply systems, on which millions of people on both side of the ‘contact line’ were dependent.
Access to water and heating for some 2.9 million people was at risk due to the inter-dependent infrastructure between Government-Controlled and Non-Government Controlled Areas (GCA and NGCA) during the coldest months of the year when the temperature dropped as low as -17C. Repair teams continued to put their lives at risk, as fragile ceasefires were often broken while restored power lines were repeatedly damaged, nullifying the efforts to ensure the operation of critical infrastructure. Increased insecurity also heightened the risks of environmental emergencies in eastern Ukraine due to potential chemical releases resulting from the conflict.
Several highly industrialized zones with a history of mining, metallurgical, chemical, power and heavy engineering industries are present in eastern Ukraine. Given the industrial nature of the area, there was a large risk to human health and the environment from a multitude of industrial chemical sites. Many industrial sites with hazardous chemicals in and around the urbanized areas posed a large risk to human health if the chemicals were released.
The nearly-miss hit of the chlorine gas depot at Donetsk Filter Station on 24 February served as a stark reminder of the risk for associated to presence of pollutant and chemicals for all those present in the area. Shelling hit the building where over 7,000 kg of chlorine gas was stored in bottles, and, fortunately, none of these were damaged. Should just one of the 900 kg containers be damaged, any person present within 200-metre distance would be killed and those living within 2.4 km would suffer health problems.
In case of extensive damage, people living within 7.4 km downwind from the facility would need to be evacuated within 24 hours, across the ‘contact line’. Humanitarian partners continued to call on parties to the conflict to respect the civilian nature of water infrastructure, de-militarise the adjacent areas and give a wide berth during fighting. In Luhansk oblast (GCA), heating supply came under additional threat after a group of veterans of volunteer battalions blocked the movement of cargo trains in the Luhansk-Lysychansk-Popasna railway section since late January and later expanded to other parts of the railroad.
The blockade prevented transport of coal and other goods across the frontline resulting in financial losses of about 37 million UAH (US£ 1.32 million), according to the Ministry of Temporary Occupied Territories and IDPs (MTOT&IDPs); loss of jobs and rise in transportation costs and coal prices. In response to the railway blockade, the de-facto authorities seized control of the enterprises in areas under their control and ceased coal delivery to GCA on 1 March and later announced the ‘contact line’ as a ‘state border’. Some 40 Ukrainian enterprises in Donetsk NGCA were put under ‘external management’ arrangement.
While the blockade continues, so do the humanitarian concerns, as this could exacerbate existing vulnerabilities, trigger humanitarian consequences and social tensions. Civilians are paying the price of the railway blockade, the subsequent ‘external management’ plan by the de facto authorities and the government decision to further restrict cargo across the frontline. While many jobs have been lost, the aid distribution facilities of the Rinat Akhmetov Humanitarian Center (RAF) in NGCA had been closed at the same time.
The Centre reported to have some 70,000 food and non-food items for elderly and children left in their aid distribution centre, when the de facto authorities took control of the area. On 11 April, the Foundation issued a statement, confirming the cessation of its aid distribution activities in all areas beyond the control of the Government of Ukraine. This came against a background of pronounced food insecurity, as NGCAs are the most food insecure parts of Donbas (up to 14 per cent in Luhansk, and 12 per cent in Donetsk), according to Food Security and Livelihoods Cluster.
Checkpoints were also theatre of violence, with indirect fire frequently reported. During the period of increased violence around Avdiivka areas, the number of individual crossings in both directions significantly decreased, particularly in the first two weeks of February. However, queues at checkpoints registered a record high in March, with over 960,000 individual crossings, compared to 586,000 and 547,000 individual crossings in January and February, respectively.
This was largely due to the compulsory verification for IDP pensioners imposed by the Government at Oshchadbank, with the original deadline was on 3 April, but later extended to 1 May. This process resulted in a massive movement of people, mostly pensioners, across the ‘contact line’, long queues at the bank branches and bus stations, and put additional constraints on the already over-stretched service facilities and increased exposure of people to fatal risks while crossing the checkpoints. At least nine civilians died of a health condition while waiting in a queue at the checkpoints or at Oschadbank since the beginning of the year while several others hospitalised as a result of long waiting hours in harsh conditions.
Many elderly people were not able to verify their identity because of lack of resources or inability to travel, as their social payments were suspended. A countrywide survey conducted by the International Organization for Migration (IOM), covering the period of January – March 2017 indicate that discrimination against IDPs (mainly in real estate and employment sectors) has increased, while housing and unemployment remain the most problematic issues. According to the survey, the general level of well-being of most IDPs is still low, as 45 per cent of IDPs interviewed indicated to have spent their incomes only on food.
In addition, according to MTOT&IDPs analysis, a new wave of IDPs could be expected due to “nationalization” of businesses in NGCA, as some 300,000 people in NGCA may lose their jobs, and consider finding employment opportunities in GCA or abroad The HRP continues to be severely underfunded.
While some contributions are yet to be reported, only 14 per cent (US£31 million) of the US£214 requirement has been received to date.
Persistent underfunding has led to a closure of critical humanitarian operations and increased risk of suspension of some life-saving services.