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05/12/2016

Stylianides heads to eastern Ukraine, as aid groups warn of humanitarian disaster

Europe's East

Stylianides heads to eastern Ukraine, as aid groups warn of humanitarian disaster

Christos Stylianides [European Parliament/Flickr]

Commissioner Christos Stylianides, responsible for humanitarian aid and crisis management, will be in Ukraine on January 26-27, to discuss the emergency with the authorities in Kyiv, to meet victims of the crisis in the east, and to reaffirm the EU’s solidarity with affected people.

According to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian aid, the conflict in Ukraine has generated 610,413 registered displaced persons, 593,609 refugees to neighbouring countries, 4,771 people killed and 10,360 wounded.

Humanitarian needs in the country are increasing due to the ongoing conflict and the onset of winter. The affected populations, especially in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions, are in urgent need of shelter, medicines, food, proper healthcare, protection and access to safe drinking water and sanitation infrastructure. Blankets, warm winter clothing, and the restoration of electricity supplies are vital.

Humanitarian organisations have warned of a major disaster in Eastern Ukraine. Donetsk is no longer supplying coal coal to the rest of Ukraine and as a consequence a lot of powerplants are running short. But reportedly, the Russian separatists are not the only ones to be blamed. According to Amnesty International, pro-Kyiv volunteer battalions are increasingly blocking humanitarian aid into eastern Ukraine.

The Dnipro-1 volunteer battalion, along with members of Donbass battalion and Pravyi Sector militia, were reported on 24 December to have blocked 11 roads leading into the DNR-controlled territory. They have refused to allow most aid convoys through, because they believe food and clothing are ending up in the wrong hands and may be sold instead of being given as humanitarian aid. They also insist on the release of prisoners held by the separatist forces as a condition for granting access to the humanitarian aid to the east. 

 At least four convoys sent by the humanitarian foundation of Rinat Akhmetov, one of Ukraine’s richest men, were blocked on the roads leading to the separatist-controlled territory by the Dnipro-1 battalion in mid-December. 

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Denis Krivosheev, deputy director of Europe and Central Asia at Amnesty International, said residents in the separatist-controlled enclaves of Luhansk and Donetsk could barely afford food and medicines, especially vulnerable people such as pensioners.

“While it may be too early to call this a humanitarian catastrophe, it’s clearly progressing in that direction,” Krivosheev told the Thomson Reuters Foundation by email.

Moreover, as the Ukrainian authorities ban some Russian channels, the elderly Russian-speaking population is left without information.

“I am very worried about the situation of the thousands of Ukrainians thrown in a real humanitarian crisis by this conflict. Winter is making their suffering even greater, and is especially harsh on the displaced, children, the elderly, the poorest”, Stylianides said.

In his words, Europe has been helping the most vulnerable victims of this crisis since its early days and will continue to do so. He said he will be in Kyiv and Dnepropetrovsk to make sure the EU’s assistance continues to bring relief everywhere it is needed.

The Commission is preparing a joint humanitarian package with Member States – yet another sign that we stand together by the Ukrainian people and that our solidarity is tangible and collective,” Stylianides said.

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