Humanitarian concerns as winter approaches in eastern Ukraine 

Near the contact line close to Mayorsk

Near the contact line Close to Mayorsk, © Tolmachov/UNICEF

24.11.2017 - Article

An armed conflict is being fought right here in Europe. Millions of people are still living in the conflict zone in eastern Ukraine, reliant on humanitarian assistance. Another cold winter is coming. Germany is doing what it can, as the largest bilateral donor for the people in Ukraine.

Basic health care in the conflict zone
Basic health care in the conflict zone© ASB

When asked what she wishes for most, this elderly lady in eastern Ukraine did not hesitate one second. “Peace,” she said. “I want peace again after all this time.” Her husband nods. She thinks for a moment and then says, “If I had another wish, I would wish to see my grandchildren again.” They live in the next village – on the other side of the contact line. Before hostilities started, it was just a ten-minute bus ride away. Nowadays you risk your life going there. All the same, the elderly couple set off once a month. After waiting at the check point for hours in the bitter cold, they proceed on foot through no-man’s-land and its mines to the next check point, where they again wait to enter occupied territory. In the evening the same thing in reverse to get back home. But being back home does not mean they are safe. Their village is right on the contact line and is still shelled almost every night. Her husband has not held a job for a long time now. He used to work in the coal mines on the other side. Since the fighting broke out, he’s been unemployed – like all his fellow workers. It would be too dangerous to cross the contact line every day. Now they are living off the produce of their small garden. The husband proudly shows us the chickens pecking the ground in a small enclosure behind the house. “We got five chickens from the Red Cross last year, and now we already have ten!” And with those words the 60-year-old, whose weather-beaten face and calloused hands make him look more like 80, turns back to chopping firewood. A cold, cold winter is approaching.

Winter worries

Millions of people in eastern Ukraine are worried about what it will be like when winter arrives. The temperature is likely to stay below zero degrees Celsius for months, which will make life in the hastily repaired houses extremely unpleasant. There’s a shortage of coal for heating. And there’s a danger that the water supply could collapse, leaving thousands of people even more desperate in their flats when it’s -20°C outside. There is in fact enough coal in the region – it’s just on the other side of the conflict line. This is only one of the many difficulties caused by the simmering conflict, the brunt of which is borne by the civilian Population.

The conflict in eastern Ukraine has affected people’s daily lives in many dramatic ways. According to United Nations estimates, four million people in Ukraine are dependent on humanitarian aid. Food, water, basic everyday supplies. More than three million people have fled eastern Ukraine, some to neighbouring countries, others within Ukraine. Many of those who remain are elderly, ill, or have disabilities. But many aid organisations can no longer get through to the people in the separatist-controlled areas. There are often problems about registering with the de facto authorities. The separatists simply deny international NGOs access to those in need.

Clearing landmines and booby-traps near Krasna Talivka
Clearing landmines and booby-traps near Krasna Talivka© HALO

How Germany is helping

Together with German and international partners, the Federal Foreign Office is funding food deliveries and medical care for the people affected by the conflict. Just as importantly, it supports the provision of drinking water and sanitation. Psychosocial programmes are being run to help people cope with their experiences in the war. Another component of Germany’s comprehensive assistance package is mine and ordnance clearance   this year alone more than 85 people have been killed by landmines or booby-traps. Germany has been helping the people in Ukraine since the conflict started and has become the largest donor tackling the humanitarian crisis. So far this year, it has contributed more than 23 million euros for relief Projects.

Germany also continues to advocate the full implementation of the Minsk agreements. In these agreements, the parties to the conflict have, for example, pledged to allow humanitarian agencies unhindered access to all people in need in eastern Ukraine.

Water filter station in eastern Ukraine which provides 1.5 million people with drinking water and water for their radiators
Water filter station in eastern Ukraine which provides 1.5 million people with drinking water and water for their Radiators © Tolmachov/UNICEF

Drawing attention to forgotten humanitarian crises

People here are starting to forget the humanitarian crisis in eastern Ukraine. But it is precisely those humanitarian emergencies that are not in the media spotlight which need support. The Federal Foreign Office and a group of German aid organisations have launched the #nichtvergesser initiative to draw attention to neglected humanitarian crises. The one in Ukraine is among them – a humanitarian crisis right here in Europe.

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