With fragile ceasefire in place, UN agencies scale up humanitarian operations in Ukraine

A woman collects aid items at a distribution centre in Nikolayevka, eastern Ukraine. Photo: UNHCR/E. Zivatdinov

19 February 2015 – Several days after parties to the conflict in Ukraine signed a ceasefire, United Nations agencies announced a scale up of their emergency operations to the country, delivering some 62 metric tons of humanitarian aid to the crisis-torn Donetsk region today.

This includes essential hygiene items, warm clothes, blankets, drinking water, and medical supplies procured by the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), UN Children's Fund (UNICEF), and the World Health Organization (WHO).

“The humanitarian needs in Ukraine are real and intense. I have just returned from a quick visit to eastern Ukraine. It is imperative we scale up: we are doing it. We revised the Humanitarian Response Plan (HRP) and will launch it with support from Government and humanitarian actors in the coming days," Neal Walker, UN Resident Coordinator in Ukraine, said today.

The UN World Food Programme (WFP) also announced today its plans to feed close to 190,000 vulnerable people who have been either displaced or are currently trapped. Over the next few months, WFP will increase its assistance, including through the distribution of locally-procured food to over 110,000 people but it will need $9 million to continue to provide aid through June.

The protracted conflict in Eastern Ukraine since March 2014 has affected five million civilians. Those who have been displaced and those living in zones of active fighting are particularly vulnerable. Many have exhausted their life savings and have no access to jobs or health care. Food prices have risen dramatically in the eastern parts of the country – 30 per cent for staples like bread and milk and 75-80 per cent for meat and cheese, compared to last year.

“In areas where the fighting is still raging, the situation is even more precarious with civilians without access to functioning markets or food supplies,” said Carlo Scaramella, WFP Deputy Regional Director for the Middle East, North Africa, Eastern Europe and Central Asia.

“The humanitarian situation has deteriorated over the last few months in Donetsk and Luhansk with people fleeing their homes and taking refuge with extended families, in shelters, rented apartments and even in railway carriages,” he added.

WFP plans to distribute three rounds of food vouchers for nearly 80,000 vulnerable people, particularly the elderly and female-headed households. Particular attention will be focused on delivering food to displaced elderly people and the host communities caring for them. A WFP team met newly displaced families from areas near Debaltseve and Horlivka and heard their stories of escaping the conflict and how there are still people trapped in besieged areas.

A 90-year-old woman, evacuated at night by her neighbours following heavy fighting in her village near Debaltseve, is said to be taking refuge in a railroad car in Sloviansk's main railway station.

Children have also been badly affected, UNICEF's representative in Ukraine, Giovanna Barberis said. “Lack of food, water shortages, hampered access to medical facilities in the areas of ongoing fighting put children's lives in danger, especially of the most vulnerable – children living in bomb shelters and institutions, children with disabilities, children affected by HIV.”

Since March 2014, over one million people have been displaced within Ukraine. Of these, more than 134,000 are children. Displaced people affected by tuberculosis remain un-monitored and HIV-positive patients have no access to medication. In addition, disease surveillance is broken and disease outbreaks could reach catastrophic consequences.

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