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ICRC Calls for Protection of Civilians Under Fire in Ukraine

  • Lisa Schlein

A woman reacts as she stands at a market that, according to locals, was recently damaged by shelling, in Donetsk, eastern Ukraine, Jan. 19, 2015.

A woman reacts as she stands at a market that, according to locals, was recently damaged by shelling, in Donetsk, eastern Ukraine, Jan. 19, 2015.

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) is calling on the warring factions battling for control of Donetsk airport in eastern Ukraine not to harm civilians and to agree to a cease-fire.

Confusion and conflicting reports persist over who is in control of the airport in Donetsk.

Media reports say about one dozen civilians caught in the crossfire were killed over the weekend. A spokeswomen for the ICRC said the figure can't be confirmed, nor can the number of people who have been wounded in the conflict.

But ICRC spokeswoman Anastasia Isyuk said the escalation of fighting is putting many people in danger. She said her agency hopes a cease-fire comes into force quickly.

“We have this morning appealed publicly again to all fighting parties to refrain from harming civilians and to comply with the international humanitarian law, in particular, we reminded them that indiscriminate attacks that may target civilians or civilian objects are prohibited,” said Isyuk.

Humanitarian work hampered

She said fighting is preventing the ICRC team in Donetsk from carrying out its humanitarian work. Isyuk said it is crucial the crisis be resolved soon, as many people are in need of assistance.

She noted that harsh winter conditions and the suspension of benefit payments by the government in some parts of the Donetsk and Lugansk regions are worsening the situation for civilians.

“The situation of those people who are dependent on those subsidies remains very difficult. Therefore, we are making plans for the distribution of food, hygiene articles, medical supplies," said Isyuk. "But it remains to be seen how the situation will develop and what is going to be the humanitarian consequences for the people, as well as for the institutions.”

Since October, the ICRC has delivered more than two tons of aid to 45,000 people in rebel-controlled areas in Donetsk and Lugansk. It also has delivered medical supplies to hospitals.

Isyuk said the Red Cross has been visiting detention facilities run by the Ukrainian authorities since September. As of January 15, she says Red Cross delegates, for the first time, have been able to visit prisoners in rebel-controlled detention centers.

She said these visits allow the delegates to monitor the treatment of the prisoners and the conditions of detention. The delegates check to see that the inmates are getting food and medication. Isyuk said she hopes these activities will continue once the situation stabilizes.

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