Humanitarian Conditions Will Continue to Deteriorate if Crisis in Eastern Ukraine Persists, Senior Official Tells Security Council

5 August 2014
SC/11508

Humanitarian Conditions Will Continue to Deteriorate if Crisis in Eastern Ukraine Persists, Senior Official Tells Security Council

7234th Meeting* (PM)

Humanitarian conditions in eastern Ukraine would continue to steadily worsen and deteriorate if the current crisis persisted, a senior United Nations official informed the Security Council today during a briefing on the matter.

John Ging, Director, Coordination and Response Division, United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), told the 15-nation body that the violence and insecurity prevailing in that area had put nearly 4 million people at risk and had damaged key civilian infrastructure, including water supplies and medical facilities.

In a conflict that had seen over 1,300 deaths and more than 4,000 injured, the protection of civilians was the key aim, he said.  However, the number of internally displaced persons had almost doubled in the previous month and their needs for shelter, food and other essential assistance were burdening host communities and neighbouring regions.  Many people from Luhansk and Donetsk had fled to the Russian Federation and the total crossing the border was close to 1 million.  He raised concerns about combatants blocking humanitarian corridors and urged all sides to allow the free and safe movement of the population.

The representative of the Russian Federation said Ukraine’s Government was “not interested at all” in creating humanitarian corridors to evacuate children and had refused the Russian Federation’s proposal to set them up.  In addition, not only had Ukraine’s military operations been stepped up, with militia groups increasingly involved, but that country had rejected a request to send a Russian Federation convoy to areas of high concentration of internally displaced persons.  Politicking over eastern Ukraine needed to end, he insisted, calling for a commitment, instead, to true humanitarian principles.

However, Ukraine’s representative underscored that there was no humanitarian crisis in his country.  Rather, the Russian Federation was continuing to perpetrate the conflict.  Difficulties existed only in cities under Russian control.  Humanitarian corridors had been set up, but they could not operate fully because of the activities of armed groups supported by the Russian Federation.  The situation would stabilize once the Russian Federation stopped sending mercenaries and weapons, prevented the infiltration of armed groups and ceased provoking unrest.

While several speakers noted the improvement in the humanitarian situation in areas where Ukraine had regained control, others stressed urgency to address the humanitarian situation in the face of the approaching winter, which could make the situation of internally displaced persons even more fragile.  Responding to those concerns, Mr. Ging acknowledged the severity of eastern Ukraine’s winter, assuring the Council that winterization was at the core of all OCHA’s humanitarian plans.

Also speaking were representatives of Chile, China, France, United States, Lithuania, Jordan, Republic of Korea, Argentina, Luxembourg, Australia, Nigeria, Rwanda, Chad and United Kingdom.

The meeting began at 5:20 p.m. and ended at 6:45 p.m.

Briefing

JOHN GING, Director, Coordination and Response Division, United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, said violence and insecurity were prevailing in conflict areas, resulting in a steadily worsening humanitarian situation that would continue to deteriorate as the situation persisted.  The 3.9 million people living in the conflict zone were facing imminent security threats and infrastructure had been damaged by fighting.  In Donetsk and Luhansk, home to 1.5 million people, the water supply had been reduced to a few hours per day.  Health supplies were low and approximately 70 per cent of health personnel had fled, significantly reducing access to medical care.  He added that 1,600 families had seen their homes damaged.

He stressed the importance of protecting civilians, pointing to 1,367 deaths and 4,087 injuries to civilians and combatants recorded by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) Human Rights Monitoring Mission since mid-April.  Internally displaced persons numbers had increased considerably, with 58,000 fleeing since July, bringing the total internally displaced to 117,910.  Their needs for shelter, food and other essential assistance were burdening host communities and neighbouring regions.  Many people from Luhansk and Donetsk were fleeing to the Russian Federation.  Nearly 60,000 people had applied for refugee status there and 115,952 had applied for other forms of legal stay.  Still, many others had not registered or applied officially for assistance.  Russian Federation authorities and the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees had reported that 740,000 people had crossed the border under the 270-day visa programme for Ukrainians.

He said local and community-based organizations were the main source of the humanitarian response.  In areas where fighting had subsided, water and power were available.  However, local capacities were reaching exhaustion levels and the United Nations was stepping in.  The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) was working with several partners to undertake emergency preparedness measures and to address people’s most urgent needs, among other efforts being made by the United Nations system, which he outlined.  For the OCHA Humanitarian Advisory Team, which was assessing needs and supporting coordination of the response, the priority remained on supporting the Government-led efforts and complementing those efforts with direct response for people in need. 

Noting that combatants regularly blocked humanitarian corridors, he urged all sides to allow free and safe movement of the population.  As well, the Ukrainian Government should establish a unified registration system for internally displaced persons, exempt humanitarian assistance from taxation and ratify the United Nations-Government customs agreement that would facilitate the entry of humanitarian workers and goods to the region.  He also requested temporary exceptions to facilitate the import of World Health Organization-certified medical supplies that could meet the population’s health needs.

Statements

VITALY CHURKIN (Russian Federation), praising Mr. Ging’s briefing, said the Government in Kyiv was continuing to step up its military operations.  Militia groups were increasingly taking a role in those operations, which were being financed by local oligarchs.  Artillery tanks and rockets were being used and local sources had reported the use of phosphorous bombs.  In many small towns, about 80 per cent of houses had been destroyed.  More than 600 buildings had fallen, according to conservative estimates, and the electrical power plant had been shut down.  Shells continued to fall into the Russian Federation.  According to the most conservative estimates, more than 1,367 had been killed.  Of the more than 4 million people in militarized areas, approximately 200,000 of them were without drinking water due to the shelling.  Almost 800,000 Ukrainians had fled to the Russian Federation since the beginning of the crisis.  His country had opened relief centres for the refugees and stood ready to provide humanitarian aid to the refugees without the need for outside help. 

He voiced regret that the authorities in Kyiv were “not interested at all” in creating humanitarian corridors to evacuate children and had refused the Russian Federation’s proposal to set them up.  The Russian Foreign Minister had sent an appeal to United Nations agencies, the Council of Europe and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) to convene a humanitarian mission.  As well, his Government had wanted to send a Russian convoy to areas in Ukraine where internally displaced persons were concentrated.  Because his Government was committed to transparency, he invited the humanitarian community to monitor such a mission.  In many cases, getting aid to civilians was difficult.  There must be a halt to politicking over eastern Ukraine and a commitment to true humanitarian principles.  The fact that the Government in Kyiv had rejected that was simply regrettable.

CRISTIÁN BARROS MELET (Chile) expressed extreme concern over those trapped in the conflict zone, their lack of access to basic supplies, and the fact that access to drinking water in the conflict zone had diminished.  Evacuations of civilians, internally displaced persons and people crossing the border had increased.  Any response strategy must meet their needs.  He voiced support of the United Nations recommendations that the Ukraine Government create a register to document the movement of internally displaced persons.  He also welcomed the efforts of OCHA and other international aid representatives to draw up a response programme, saying he hoped the international donor community would meet that appeal.  He called on the parties to find a peaceful solution to the conflict through political dialogue.  They should participate in international mediation, he stated, adding that various independent international mechanisms should be engaged to find a solution to the crisis.

LIU JIEYI (China) voiced deep worries over the humanitarian crisis in eastern Ukraine.  The United Nations should play an increasing role in resolving the crisis, while ensuring its agencies adhere to the principle of neutrality.  The parties concerned should maintain calm and restraint, respect the Charter, work on the basis of consensus, meet each other halfway, and seek a comprehensive settlement through peaceful means.  The international community should do more to promote peace and dialogue.  He supported any efforts that helped ease tensions and moved towards a settlement. 

BÉATRICE LE FRAPER DU HELLEN (France), noting the increasing number of internally displaced persons, pointed out that they were fleeing the fighting that had been started by the pro-Russian separatists.  Basic services were being provided in areas in which Ukraine had regained control, indicating that the separatists were the main cause of the displacement.  Displacement was also caused by the presence of armed militia coming from outside Ukraine.  Those who were arming those criminals terrorizing the civilian population were responsible for the worsening of the humanitarian situation.  She called for the Russian Federation to demonstrate a serious commitment to address the situation, expressing regret that so far that country had not taken specific measures to control the border.  New measures against the Russian Federation by the United States and European States illustrated that the international community was united in condemning the Russian Federation’s failure to cooperate and coordinate.  The Russian Federation could do so if it so chose.  The priority was to end the escalation of hostilities and achieve a lasting ceasefire, she stressed, calling for the parties to put down their arms.

ROSEMARY A. DICARLO (United States) welcomed the Ukrainian Government’s efforts to restore services in areas where fighting had ceased.  She encouraged Ukraine to set-up a comprehensive internally displaced persons registry and to implement other measures that would let international donors more effectively respond to the humanitarian situation.  Regarding the Russian Federation’s call for a humanitarian mission, she said the United Nations had mobilized quickly, providing assistance on the ground, especially in liberated areas.  She stressed that “Russia could stop this” by stopping the flow of fighters, money and weapons into eastern Ukraine and by pressing separatists to negotiate.  However, instead of positive efforts, Russian troop numbers at the border had doubled and exercises were going ahead, further escalating tensions.  An independent assessment of humanitarian needs in the Russian Federation and along the border should be done so that the international community could better understand the situation.  Turning to the downed airliner, she said Ukraine had helped with efforts to establish a thorough and independent investigation.  She also questioned whether the current meeting met the standards of urgency required for an emergency briefing, especially as the Council was due to discuss the overall situation on this coming Friday.

RAIMONDA MURMOKAITĖ (Lithuania), echoing her counterpart from the United States, pointed out that more than 20 meetings had already been held on the situation in Ukraine in 2014.  Nonetheless, she observed that the rule of law in the so-called Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics had been replaced by “the rule of lawlessness and force”.  Illegal armed groups, many run by Russian nationals with conflict experience, were equipped with heavy weaponry.  In areas they controlled, abductions, detention of civilians, torture and ill-treatment were common.  Russian soldiers had bragged on social networks about shelling Ukraine, while separatists took “selfies with the bodies or what remains of killed Ukrainian soldiers”.  Martial law had been declared in Donetsk and pro-Russian rebels in eastern Ukraine had threatened medical staff and had attacked hospitals with explosive weapons.  Ukrainian forces had been forced to abandon their advance into Yasinovataya because of separatists’ proximity to civilians.  Acknowledging that Ukrainian authorities had warned civilian populations in advance of armed engagement, as well as their efforts to establish humanitarian corridors, she stressed the need to avoid damage to civilian infrastructure and casualties.  The Russian Federation had “stoked the illegal war carried out by militant separatists against Ukraine” and could have prevented development of the humanitarian situation by dissociating itself from militant separatists in the area.

SAMER ANTON AYED NABER (Jordan) said the worsening of hostilities was a concern for his country.  The parties should show restraint and end hostile acts.  There must be full respect for Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.  He called on Ukraine to respect international human rights law.  It was necessary to ensure civilians were protected and for the parties not to use civilian targets or undertake reprisals against that population.  He appealed to all parties in the Ukraine to do everything possible to find a political solution to the crisis.  All combatants should put down their arms.  He called for the return of internally displaced persons and urged the parties to respect the Geneva statement and facilitate access for the United Nations mission to monitor the human rights situation.

OH JOON (Republic of Korea) said he remained concern over the continued hostilities and the continuing violence that had led to the growing loss of life.  He was especially concerned over the report that the number of internally displaced persons in Ukraine had reached 117,000, rising sharply since June.  The lack of basic services was also a source of concern.  Given the gravity of the situation, small humanitarian corridors were needed.  The volatile situation showed that the solution to it was a meaningful cessation of hostilities.  In that regard, he welcomed the 31 July meeting in Minsk of the Trilateral Contact Group with the representatives of separatist groups.  He called on all parties to engage in constructive dialogue.  All armed groups must lay down their arms.  That was the key to any sustainable solution to the crisis.  He reiterated support for a full, thorough and independent investigation into the recent downing of the Malaysia Airlines flight over Ukraine.

MARIA CRISTINA PERCEVAL (Argentina) said the humanitarian situation in eastern Ukraine was “disturbing”, expressing deep concern over its deterioration.  Violent clashes near Donetsk and Luhansk were continuing to increase the number of displaced persons and their situation could not be faced with indifference from the international community.  Reports of civilian deaths and of attacks on key infrastructure facilities by armed groups were alarming and she appealed that respect for the protection of civilians in areas of conflict be adhered to, stressing that civilians should be allowed to leave areas where fighting was taking place.  She also underscored that winter and the low temperatures would place internally displaced persons in even more fragile situations.  She emphasized the need for investigation of all incidents where civilians lost their lives or were wounded, and stressed the need for accountability.

SYLVIE LUCAS (Luxembourg) voiced her concern over intimidation, torture, abduction and killings recorded in zones controlled by separatists.  Human rights violations had to stop and the rule of law had to be upheld.  Efforts to help affected populations, particularly from the Ukrainian Government, needed to be increased.  Among other important humanitarian efforts, Ukraine also needed to establish a centralized registry of internally displaced persons, as well as create conditions for President Petro Poroshenko’s peace plan to take effect and ensure a peaceful solution.  It was crucial that borders were made safe and that no more arms were supplied to separatists.  She voiced hoped that the downing of the airliner could serve as a turning point in finding a solution to the crisis.

GARY FRANCIS QUINLAN (Australia) said the large number of internally displaced persons and those that had fled outside Ukraine was troubling.  Calling for all parties to comply with international humanitarian law, he welcomed the Ukrainian authorities’ efforts to determine civilians’ needs, stressing that their continued cooperation with the United Nations was vital.  He looked forward to the response plan to be released this week and to the start of the Minsk talks; they must deliver.  The deaths of passengers on board the downed Malaysian aircraft were a direct cause of the recent violence.  However, two weeks after the Council adopted a resolution calling for an independent investigation into the crash and immediate access to the crash site, that unimpeded and complete access to the site was still not available.  He called for the resolution’s full and urgent implementation.  The Dutch, Australian and Malaysian personnel assisting with the investigation were an unarmed operation of limited scope and duration, working meticulously with the Organization for Security and Co‑operation in Europe (OSCE).  Yet, because access was not always given to the site, the recovery of remains was being hampered.  The unarmed personnel on the ground needed the Council’s demands, as stated in the resolution, to be met.  The sooner they achieved full access, the sooner they could conclude their work.

USMAN SARKI (Nigeria), calling Mr. Ging’s briefing disconcerting, said it had pointed to 230,000 internally displaced people, the shutdown of the power grid that supplied electricity to homes, schools and hospitals, exhausted gas reserves, and a shortfall in medical supplies.  A mass exodus had been the end result.  As the conflict intensified, international support and solidarity was becoming increasingly important and he commended OCHA for being central to the aid planning and response strategies.  The United Nations leadership role in humanitarian operations worldwide had been demonstrated.  He urged the international aid community to remain in place until the areas were stabilized and called on the countries involved to ensure an effective system was established.  Because the humanitarian situation was due to the conflict in the country, the only sustainable solution was the cessation of hostilities and a return to dialogue.  The OSCE road map and 17 April Geneva agreement presented viable avenues.  He asked Mr. Ging whether the unified registration system was being examined positively by the Ukraine authorities and whether OCHA and the rest of international aid community were prepared to assist civilians during the colder months, should the conflict continue into winter.

OLIVIER NDUHUNGIREHE (Rwanda) said the fast-deteriorating humanitarian situation was endangering the lives of women and children, noting that 117,000 people were displaced within Ukraine, and many more were crossing to the Russian Federation.  Most were civilians caught in the crossfire and he commended the work of humanitarian actors.  He also expressed concern over continued violence around the MH17 crash site as families had not received the bodies of their loved ones.  He called for unhindered access for investigators.  The worsening humanitarian situation had to be a wake-up call for the redoubling of efforts to find a sustainable solution to the crisis.  He reiterated his support for Petro Poroshenko’s peace plan, which gave a basis for a durable solution.  Calling for the respect of Ukraine’s independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity, he urged all armed groups to disarm.  He noted that the Council was considering the humanitarian situation but would consider the situation in Ukraine again in two days’ time, and he questioned that “piecemeal approach”.  Instituting monthly meetings should be considered so that the Council could remain seized of the crisis in all its aspects.

GOMBO TCHOULI (Chad) said intense fighting in eastern Ukraine had reached urban centres, with civilians in the line of fire.  Many had been killed and wounded.  Some sources pointed to the use of heavy weapons in urban areas, which was a crime.  Both sides needed to respect international humanitarian law.  Such attacks and responses were fraught with the risk of negatively impacting the civilian population.  He added that only inclusive, constructive dialogue could “unpick” the situation, stressing that Ukrainians had the right to peace. 

MARK LYALL GRANT (United Kingdom), Council President, speaking in his national capacity, said although the humanitarian situation in Ukraine was not as bad as elsewhere, that was little comfort to those experiencing distress.  Separatist violence had worsened the situation.  In liberated areas, life was returning to normal, with internally displaced persons returning and services restored.  In contrast, in separatist controlled areas, civilians were vulnerable and utilities were deliberately targeted.  The rule of law had been replaced with the rule of violence.  The latest human rights monitoring left little doubt about abduction, looting, torture and executions.  Separatists had to address their grievances through democratic means and the root causes of the conflict had to be tackled.  Despite the concern expressed by the Russian Federation, there had been no call for cessation of separatist violence.  Instead, separatists were equipped with high-tech equipment, a propaganda war was being waged and Ukraine had even been shelled across the border.  The conflict was “manufactured in Moscow” and was led by Russians, with several separatist leaders Russian citizens who had worked for Russian intelligence.  He said he found it “deeply ironic” that the Russian Federation had called a meeting to discuss a humanitarian crisis of their own creation.

Mr. GING, responding to the questions by the Nigerian representative about whether there had been any positive engagement around the unified registration system for internally displaced persons, said he was hoping for such an outcome on the matter.  He also underscored that it was important the issue of winter be raised as that season’s harshness in eastern Ukraine was very severe.  The winterization factor was at the core of all OCHA’s humanitarian plans, and all efforts were being made to alleviate any difficulties displaced persons might experience that could result from those conditions.

OLEKSANDR PAVLICHENKO (Ukraine) thanked those parties who had provided aid to the affected Ukraine regions.  His country valued the efforts of the United Nations and other humanitarian agencies.  The Ukraine Government gave due consideration to all recommendations of the United Nations and other international players.  Emphasizing that there was no humanitarian crisis in the Ukraine, he stressed that the Russian Federation was continuing to perpetrate the conflict.  The Ukraine Government could manage the situation and was remaining open to cooperation with humanitarian partners.  There was difficulty only in those cities under Russian control, which were hampered by a lack of electricity and other basic services.  The Ukraine Government was ensuring the fulfilment of retirement and social benefits to people throughout the Donetsk and Luhansk regions, except in areas under the control of separatists.  The terrorists had been pushed out of Sloviansk.

He described the Russian Federation’s take on the humanitarian situation and its proposal to set up an international humanitarian mission in Donbas as “very critical”.  In addition to deliberately destroying vital infrastructure, terrorists had attacked medical units and personnel, and had fired on hospitals, compromising their ability to reach patients.  The anti-terrorist forces that had freed cities in Donbas had reinstalled peace, helping civilians in those areas to return to normal life.  Since June, the United Nations and ICRC had operated successfully in Ukraine.  Humanitarian corridors had been established, but, at present, they could not operate fully due to the illegal activities of armed groups supported by the Russian Federation.  The Russian Federation was not fulfilling the Geneva statement; it continued to increase its forces along the Ukraine-Russian border.  He called on the Russian Federation to stop sending mercenaries and weapons, to establish effective control over its part of border to prevent the infiltration of armed groups, and to stop provoking unrest.  The sooner those steps were taken, the sooner the situation would stabilize. 

Taking the floor a second time, Mr. CHURKIN said many Council members had not heard his call to not politicize the humanitarian situation.  Many had distorted the Russian Federation’s role; others had repeated previous statements of his country being to blame.  He reaffirmed his country’s readiness to closely cooperate with humanitarian agencies and expressed hoped that today’s Council meeting would serve to promote coordination of his Government’s efforts with them. 

For information media. Not an official record.
Footnotes: 

*     The 7233rd Meeting was closed.