Red Cross humanitarian aid cannot reach Ukrainian cities where hostilities continue

Local residents get their humanitarian aid from volunteers of the International Committee Of The Red Cross in the pro-Russian militants-controlled city of Donetsk, Ukraine, 18 March 2021. [EPA-EFE/ALEXANDER USENKO]

Reaching those in need remains the biggest challenge for the Ukrainian Red Cross, especially in frontline places like Mariupol, where dozens of attempts have failed to bring in humanitarian aid.

“We lack the agreements about the ceasefire to be able to help people,” Maksym Dotsenko, the director-general of the Ukrainian Red Cross Society, told a press briefing on Tuesday (29 March). 

The issue remains particularly evident in small towns that are occupied by Russian forces, as “there is no access to provide some support to people”. Without permission to enter a town, humanitarian assistance cannot be delivered. 

To know the needs of the population, the Ukrainian Red Cross is getting lists from the local authorities and humanitarian centres, as well as the Ukrainian government. 

“At the moment, the most crucial needs that we respond to are medications and medical equipment, hygiene kits, electric power generators, heating guns, hospital equipment,” Dotsenko said. 

“We follow the situation with the state authorities and once we see the opportunity or a new possibility to support people in those places, for example, to support them with humanitarian aid or to arrange some evacuation of people, we use this possibility,” he explained.

Since the Russian invasion started on 24 February, Ukrainian Red Cross has done more than just deliver humanitarian aid. “It is the continuation and accompanying of the humanitarian corridors for the evacuation of the civil population from those places that face active hostilities”.

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Evacuation happens under shelling

“We accompanied the evacuation of civilians in the cities of Sumy, Chernihiv […] also we helped evacuate people from Mariupol. And we continue this scope of activity and the creation of people corridors in the Kharkiv region, in Kyiv region and also other regions,” the Ukrainian Red Cross Society director said.

There were opportunities to evacuate people from Mariupol even though humanitarian aid cannot reach the city. None of the dozens of attempts to deliver aid to Mariupol were successful.

“Thank God that there is an opportunity to evacuate people from Mariupol under shelling. There are successful cases for evacuation. But unfortunately, the situation’s opposite with the delivery of humanitarian assistance to Mariupol,” Dotsenko said.

He stressed that evacuation in Mariupol takes place under shelling. “People are risking themselves, risking their lives under shelling, trying to evacuate, to get to a safer place,” Dotsenko said.

Unfortunately, he added, “the opportunity to evacuate from Mariupol is not thanks to the green or humanitarian corridors, [it is not] the result of a ceasefire or agreement between the two sides”. 

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2000 tons of humanitarian aid delivered

Despite the harsh conditions, since the invasion started, Ukrainian Red Cross has provided assistance and support for more than 400,000 people and also provided support for the evacuation of 80,000 people. More than 2,000 tonnes of humanitarian aid were delivered to the affected people. 

The Red Cross also administered first aid as well as psychological support to those who need support “to at least somehow sustain their mental health,” Dotsenko said.

He added that support – in the form of helping their transport to shelters – is also being given to people with low mobility who cannot move by themselves and to those with severe illnesses.

[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]

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