UKRAINE is experiencing a humanitarian crisis in which people’s lives are being “torn apart” and they are being forced to choose between food, medicine, or clothing, the agency Mission Without Borders (MWB) has said.
UN figures suggest that almost a million people are suffering what is being called the coldest humanitarian crisis in the world. It emerged out of the conflict between government forces and separatists supported by Russia which began four years ago (News, 21 March 2014).
MWB is attempting to help people affected by the crisis. Last week, an MWB spokesman said: “Ukraine is going through a difficult period of its history. Its war-torn economy has been plunged into crisis following the Euromaidan Revolution and the following conflict with neighbouring Russia.”
More than 3000 civilians are believed to have died in the war, which involved the annexation of Crimea by Russia.
An estimated 1.6 million people remain internally displaced in Ukraine: the largest uprooted population in Europe, and among the ten largest in the world.
Speaking on behalf of MWB chaplains in the region, the spokesman continued: “The humanitarian crisis principally effects the Donetsk and Luhansk regions which are under Russian [separatist] control. The conflict has resulted, however, in fresh graves for fallen soldiers being dug in every part of Ukraine each day, and the 1.5 million internally displaced people have seen their lives torn apart and have been left to start their lives from scratch.
“The effect of the conflict has also crippled the economy, with inflation reaching 16.4 per cent in 2018, and predicted to be 12 per cent this year. Consumer prices, medicine, and utility costs are constantly rising.
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“Millions of people have exhausted their resources, and are being forced to choose between food, medicine, or clothing; and, as winter deepens, north-east winds mean that temperatures can drop below –20°C, making life very difficult for those without good access to food and heating, especially for those with disabilities.”
MWB said that it provided regular support for 500 vulnerable families and 7000 children in the country, and that it planned to send 1700 parcels to needy families to help them celebrate Christmas. It is difficult to help those in contested areas, however, because of tensions between the government and the separatists.
The spokesman said: “Mission Without Borders has not been able to provide direct aid to the occupied territories because no direct assistance can be officially provided to that territory without it being viewed by the government of Ukraine as providing support for the separatists.
“Moreover, the Mission does not have access to the occupied territories because it is dangerous to enter them, and Ukrainians are not welcomed there by ‘republican’ officials. . . Once or twice a year, we are able to send supply trucks to the government-controlled regions in the east of Ukraine, which is then distributed by local Evangelical churches.”
Last week, Russia captured three vessels belonging to the Ukrainian navy, in the most serious escalation of the simmering tensions between the two countries since the annexation of Crimea. Twenty-three Ukrainian sailors were taken into Russian custody.
Russia said that the Ukrainian vessels entered its water illegally: Ukraine argued that it was acting in accordance with international maritime law, and with a 2003 agreement over the joint control of the Sea of Azov.
Martial law has been declared in ten regions of Ukraine, those “subject to Russian aggression”, after the Ukrainian parliament backed proposals by President Petro Poroshenko.
“Martial law does not mean the declaration of war: it is introduced solely for the purpose of strengthening Ukraine’s defence against the background of growing aggression from Russia,” President Poroshenko said.
Russian men aged 16 to 60 have been banned from entering Ukraine after the imposition of martial law.
This week, a Ukrainian minister said that Ukrainian ships were being allowed through the Kerch Strait into the Sea of Azov, which could mean that tensions have relaxed. It is unclear what would happen if the Ukrainian navy attempted the same journey.