The conflict in Ukraine has claimed 13,000 lives and injured around 30,000 since breaking out in April 2014. Some 1.4 million people have lost their homes since then and approximately 100,000 Ukrainians are living under sometimes dangerous circumstances along what is known as the contact line in the conflict region.
It is against this backdrop that Foreign Minister Maas is travelling to Ukraine today (19 November) in order to gain an insight into the progress that has been made, as well as into the remaining obstacles on the road to lasting peace. Prior to his departure, Maas welcomed the fact that “after years of stalemate”, efforts to resolve the conflict surrounding eastern Ukraine had “finally picked up momentum again”. However, he added, as long as the ceasefire continued to be violated “hundreds of times each day”, the situation for the population in the conflict zone remained “unbearable”.
Disengagement eases humanitarian situation
There has been momentum in the peace process, which has been long entrenched, for a number of months now. Following lengthy negotiations, representatives of Russia, Ukraine and the separatists from Donetsk and Luhansk agreed to “disengage” at three points along the contact line. Troops on both sides recently withdrew from Stanytsia Luhanska, Zolote and Petrivske in eastern Ukraine in order to reduce the risk of renewed fighting and to facilitate measures to improve the humanitarian situation in the region as well as, at the very least, enable provisional reconstruction.
Safe passage between conflict zones
A tangible sign of this progress is the reconstruction of the destroyed bridge in Stanytsia Luhanska over the Seversky Donets river, which is to be completed in the next few weeks. This will lead to a considerable improvement to the living conditions of many people along the contact line. For example, while elderly people had to cross the river to collect their pensions or to purchase groceries under sometimes life-threatening conditions, they will enjoy safe passage between the zones once the bridge has been completed.
Progress in political process must follow
With these developments in mind, Foreign Minister Maas will travel to Kyiv today and meet Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, Prime Minister Oleksiy Honcharuk and Foreign Minister Vadym Prystaiko. Their talks will focus, among other things, on further steps for making progress towards a lasting solution to the conflict. This includes the implementation of the Minsk agreements, which, alongside a ceasefire, envisage a political process with local elections and a reform to the Ukrainian constitution. The agreements have only been partially implemented to date.