The deployment of Russian troops on the border with Ukraine has triggered tensions between Russia and NATO countries, but this situation is not new for those who live in the east from Ukraine. There, the fighting between pro-Russian separatists and the Ukrainian Army has caused the civilians have been suffering the consequences for nearly eight years of violence.
The war in eastern Ukraine has caused the population has daily shortages, which have been aggravated by the pandemic. In 2022, at least 2.9 million people will need humanitarian aid in Ukraine, according to United Nations estimates.
About 400,000 people are “severely or moderately” affected by food insecurity and some 160,000 Ukrainians in the Donetsk and Lugansk regions They are experiencing “very severe” food insecurity, according to the head of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) in Ukraine, the Spaniard Ignacio León García, who told RTVE.es.
Ukraine has about 854,000 internally displaced by the conflict, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). Despite the uncertainty as to whether Russia will eventually carry out an invasion, one of the consequences it could have would be a new refugee crisis in Europe. According to evaluations by United States Intelligence, this scenario could cause the flight of more than five million people to neighboring countries.
Civilians pay the price of war in eastern Ukraine
The presence of more than 100,000 Russian soldiers on the border with Ukraine has raised fears of an invasion, although Ukrainians already live in a war environment for eight years. “The humanitarian situation remains bleak on both sides of the line of contact”, the UNHCR spokesperson in Ukraine, Victoria Andrievska, tells RTVE.es from Kiev.
The war has caused that in the east of Ukraine the population has daily shortages and is in need of basic food assistance and support for water and sanitation infrastructurewhich have been severely affected by the lack of maintenance and bombing.
León García underlines that 400,000 people are “severely or moderately affected by food insecurity” and a 3% of the population in Donetsk and Luhansk they are with a “very severe” food insecuritywhich is about 160,000 people.
Also, around 1.6 million people in Ukraine are in need of water assistance. “It is one of the main problems, because the water here is not only linked to consumption. Two weeks ago temperatures along the contact line were minus 24 degrees Celsius. The interruption of the water also supposes the interruption of the heating. Y heating here is as important as drinking water. Without it, the population would simply freeze to death”, explains León García.
““Heating here is as important as drinking water. Without it the population would simply freeze to death”“
In conflict zones, health services have also been affected by the war and the situation “has gotten much worse with the pandemic,” according to the Complex Crisis coordinator for Doctors of the World, Verónica Lázaro. “We are talking about an affected population in which almost 30% is older. They have chronic illnesses and have more difficulties in accessing specialized services”, emphasizes Lázaro.
For her part, the director of the Center for Civil Liberties of Ukraine, Oleksandra Matviichuk, warns that the consequences of the war also affect human rights. “Since the beginning of the war there have been documented cases of kidnapping, detention, torture and unlawful killingmostly civilians,” says Matviichuk.
“It is obvious that Russia uses its war crimes as methods to conduct the war. (…) Unfortunately, I am sure that if Russia initiates a new armed invasion, the same practice will be carried out and the first new victims of a possible Russian invasion will not be soldiers or combatants, also journalists, human rights defenders, activists… anyone who can non-violently resist the occupation,” he asserts.
More than 800,000 displaced by the conflict with the separatists
As a result of the Russian occupation of Crimea in 2014 and the war in eastern Ukraine, which has already left 14,000 deadinitially about 1.5 million Ukrainians were forced to leave their homes and move within the country.
Andrievska reports that Ukraine currently has about 854,000 internally displaced who live in different parts of the country and “is home to some 5,000 refugees and asylum seekers and almost 36,000 stateless or undocumented people.”
“In the case of Donbas, many people were threatened by the conflict. A pro-Russian de facto government was installed there and all those people who were perceived as not related They had to leave this trend because dissidence was repressed”, emphasizes the person in charge of the work on Russia at Amnesty International Spain, Yolanda Vega.
Many Ukrainians who lived in the conflict zone also moved to other bordering countries. Following the Russian occupation of Crimea, Poland rejected 99% of Ukrainian asylum applications. Currently there over a million Ukrainian citizens in Poland.
Hospitals and health centers under minimum
Since 2014, the health infrastructures of the Donetsk and Lugansk regions have been severely affected. Conflict areas face difficulties in providing quality health care to the population. population in need of specific medical care. There are no intensive care units for infectious patients, there are difficulties in oxygen supply and one great lack of pharmacies.
Verónica Lázaro stresses that in these areas “there are not enough doctors.” “Many health personnel have left because it is very difficult to live in that conflict zone and there is a shortage of health personnel”, affirms Lázaro, who highlights that the situation has been aggravated by the COVID situation.
Between a 30% to 50% of health personnel are not present in conflict zones and about 35% of the health infrastructure has been substantially damaged since the start of the war and has not been able to be renovated since then, according to OCHA.
León García affirms that it is necessary to take into account that “not only the hospital infrastructure has been affected by the conflict”, but also “the roads”. “The distance between where the population near the line of contact lives and the hospitals, although it is not very big, in the end it is a great difficultybecause the roads are in a terrible state”, he stresses.
The Ukrainian population also suffers mental health problems by the war, but not only those who live near the conflict zones. “The geopolitical tensions of recent weeks have an impact on the general population”, warns León García. “The events that occurred in 2014 are too close for the population to have forgotten the fact that there was a conflict in the east of the country. Just thinking that this conflict can spread to the rest of the country, causes tremendous psychological stress”, he asserts.
2.9 million people will need humanitarian aid
At least 2.9 million people will need humanitarian aid in Ukraine, according to United Nations estimates, most of them in areas not controlled by the Kiev government in the east of the country. Humanitarian organizations aim to help 1.8 million people and request financing of 190 million dollars.
OCHA is responsible for “ensuring that the different humanitarian actors involved in humanitarian operations in Ukraine are coordinated among themselves,” explains León García, who details that “there are around 200 humanitarian actors who coordinate on a daily basis so that help reaches people”.
UNHCR has been present in Ukraine since 1994, and since 2014 “implements protection, assistance and shelter programs in numerous places”, emphasizes the spokeswoman for the UN agency in Ukraine. “UNHCR carries out protection monitoring with the aim of obtaining and providing information on the needs of the population affected by the conflict,” says Andrievska. “Support community institutions, provide legal assistance, psychosocial support and management services. In the Donbas region, it helps repair conflict-damaged homes, provides individual protection assistance, and carries out small-scale repairs to social facilities,” he adds.
For its part, Doctors of the World works on projects to “ensure and provide access to health, especially to communities that are close to the line of control”. Verónica Lázaro affirms that the organization “strengthens health centers and works to ensure that primary care has a minimum coverage”.
Millions of new displaced if there is an invasion
Despite the uncertainty about whether Russia will finally carry out an invasion, what is clear is that this scenario would devastating consequences for civiliansand one of them could be a new refugee crisis in Europe. An invasion by Russian troops could cause more than five million people to flee the country, according to the newspaper Washington Postciting US military and intelligence assessments.
Ukraine shares borders with member countries of the European Union – Poland, Romania, Slovakia and Hungary – and the Polish Government has stated that it is preparing for a massive influx of refugees if Russia attacks Ukraine.
In this sense, the head of the OCHA in Ukraine points out that “there are diplomatic tensions that we hope will be resolved through diplomatic means, but if not, we have the responsibility to being able to have contingency plans that allow us to be able to respond to any scenario”. “We are taking our own measures to be able to respond to any scenario that could occur,” she stressed.