Foreword by the Humanitarian Coordinator
The past year has been exceptionally challenging for all of us across the globe as we collectively face the COVID-19 pandemic. But despite the dark shadow it has cast, 2020 also brought a few rays of light for the 3.4 million people who continue to be affected by the six-year-old conflict in Donetsk and Luhanska oblasts.
One of these breaks in the cloud happened on 27 July 2020 when a ceasefire agreed by the Trilateral Contact Group (TCG) came into force. The ceasefire continues to hold, creating the longest lull in the fighting since the conflict’s eruption in 2014. This significant breakthrough presents a window of opportunity for long-lasting peace in the Donbas region that could put an end to the hardship of millions of people who live on both sides of the 427-km-long “contact line” that cuts the region into areas controlled by the Government (GCA) and those beyond it (non-Government controlled areas – NGCA).
There have been other notable and much appreciated steps by the Government of Ukraine to alleviate the suffering of the conflict-affected people such as the progress on the adoption of the “National Strategy on Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict”, the deferral of the verification requirements for internally displaced persons due to COVID-19-related travel restrictions and the extension of the social benefit payments to the unemployed until the end of the national quarantine.
I would like to take the opportunity to thank the Government of Ukraine for its continued efforts to address the suffering of the conflict-weary people during these difficult times.
However, despite these welcoming developments, I am deeply concerned about the future of conflict-affected people. On top of the protracted armed conflict, the COVID-19 pandemic has further reduced chances for positive progress in the region. It is the 1.2 million elderly people, often frail and disabled, who have not only borne the physical and psychological brunt of the armed conflict over the past six years, they are also the most at risk of contracting COVID-19.
Those of the younger generation faces unprecedented challenges as economic insecurity looms large as a result of this double crisis, while children have been exposed to additional vulnerabilities, including disruptions in education, that could have many far-reaching negative effects on their future.
The hardship of this double crisis became most visible following the temporary closure of all five official crossing points along the “contact line” between March to early June 2020 in an attempt to curb the spread of the virus. Although the crossing points partially resumed their operations in mid-June, the number of times they are crossed every month has dropped by more than 90 percent compared to last year. This significant reduction indicates that hundreds of thousands of people living in NGCA are no longer able to go to GCA to collect their social benefits and entitlements or visit loved ones. This has been detrimental for the elderly in NGCA as for many of them the main source of income is their government pension they can only collect on the other side of the “contact line”. Even if the ceasefire brings lasting peace to the region, the affected people still have a long way to go to recover from this protracted crisis, especially as the land has been heavily contaminated with landmines and explosive remnants of war (ERW).
We must bear in mind that over half a million people live in areas where shelling, firing, and heavy contamination of landmines and ERW is a daily reality they are forced to live with. Even though we saw some progress in the recovery prior to the pandemic, it is worrying to note that the reverse is happening now as the double crisis takes its toll on the socio-economic situation of the conflict-affected areas.
As outlined in the 2021 Humanitarian Needs Overview, 3.4 million people require humanitarian assistance and protection to live a life of dignity. More than half of those in need are women and every third person is elderly. Together with people with disabilities, female-headed households, and children, they represent the most vulnerable groups. Although the number of people in need in 2021 is similar to 2020, their needs are significantly higher in severity due to the COVID-19 pandemic and its related restrictions.
With this in mind, I call on you to support the 2021 Humanitarian Response Plan (HRP) that aims to save lives, ensure people’s access to basic services and strengthen the protection of those affected by the conflict and COVID-19. The HRP consists of almost 100 humanitarian projects that altogether seek $168 million to assist some 1.9 million people on both sides of the “contact line”. This “down-to-the-bone” figure reflects an extremely strict and focused prioritization for meeting the essential basic needs and preventing further deterioration of the situation. These critical priority requirements have also been established to help guide donors towards those activities that urgently require funding.
Recognizing the strong capacity of the Government of Ukraine at all levels, one of the core objectives of the 2021 HRP is to support the Government in delivering services in Government-controlled areas to facilitate a humanitarian exit over the next few years. This will be done in close collaboration with Government authorities and development actors to seek sustainable solutions to alleviate the suffering of the conflict-weary people and pave the way to a peaceful future.
Until this is possible, the humanitarian community will stand by the conflict-affected people and continue to advocate to improve humanitarian access to the areas beyond the Government’s control. I call on the donor community to maintain or increase their funding to ensure continuity in critical assistance, support the preservation of the operational space, and enable us to do more to assist the conflict-weary people to cope with and overcome the effects of the protracted crisis while more sustainable solutions are sought. Only with your support can we make a real difference in the lives of conflict-affected people and remove the cloud that has cast a shadow over them for almost seven years.
Osnat Lubrani Humanitarian Coordinator in Ukraine