News / Europe

As Showdown Looms, Humanitarian Situation Worsens in Eastern Ukraine

A convoy of white trucks carrying humanitarian aid passes along the main road M4 (Don highway) Voronezh region, Russia, Aug. 12, 2014
A convoy of white trucks carrying humanitarian aid passes along the main road M4 (Don highway) Voronezh region, Russia, Aug. 12, 2014

As Ukraine promises to deny entrance to a convoy of nearly 300 Russian trucks carrying what Russia says are aid to civilians in Russian-speaking eastern Ukraine, the humanitarian situation is worsening in the region's besieged cities of Donetsk and Luhansk.

As the Russian convoy nears the border, Ukrainian and Western officials fear that Moscow is planning to exploit a worsening crisis in east Ukraine by cloaking a military mission in the guise of a humanitarian aid convoy.

Meanwhile, shelling by Ukraine forces and armed conflicts with separtists continue in the east, while a quarter-of-a-million people in Luhansk have been without running water and electricity for two weeks. Landline and cell phone communications are now failing.

Luhansk residents say stores are mainly closed, banks are not functioning and pensions and salaries are going unpaid. Medicines are running low and gas is hard to get.

The picture is not dissimilar in Donetsk, residents contacted by phone say.

Most banks have closed their offices after Kyiv authorities ordered financial institutions in the city to be cut off from the national electronic banking system. ATMS are empty and the city center remains mainly deserted with stores closed. Fuel stocks are running out too.

Some districts in Donetsk, which had a population of about a million before the insurgency began, have intermittent power and running water.

However, much of the public transportation system is still working, although buses have to be re-routed because of artillery damage. And the Internet system is largely working.

Easterners worry

Still, criticism is mounting of Kyiv authorities from easterners both in Donetsk and Luhansk - and  those who have fled - at the absence of any systematic state humanitarian effort.

“There is no strategy,” said Mykola Volynko, head of the Donbas Independent Miners trade union, for either those who remain in the besieged cities or those living in towns now retaken by Ukrainian forces.

Ukrainian officials say they have recaptured about three-quarters of the territory once held by the insurgents.

But municipal authorities are being left to fend for themselves, said Volynko and other political and NGO activists. They have formed a coordinating council to try to get the government of Ukraine President Petro Poroshenko to implement a serious aid effort of their own.

On Monday Ukraine’s security services spokesman Col.. Andriy Lysenko warned that Russia has built up forces once again along the border, saying there are now 45,000 soldiers massed along the frontier, much estimate than NATO’s.

Lysenko on Tuesday told reporters that the Russian convoy bears the hallmarks of a military mission and says it includes soldiers, arguing that, “by all the rules international law humanitarian convoys must not be accompanied by military forces.”

Throughout the conflict in the industrial Donbas region, Ukraine and the West have accused Russia of fomenting the insurgency, aiding the rebels with arms and fighters and of supplying the insurgents with the missile they used to shoot down a Malaysian commercial jet, killing all the passengers and crew.

The Kremlin denies it has provided any assistance to the rebels.

Russia's stance

Russian officials insist that they aren’t planning to send troops into territory held by separatist insurgents in a bid to save them from defeat from the Ukrainian army. They say civilian suffering requires aid now.

The tragic humanitarian situation that’s unfolding in the region can’t wait,” said Dmitry Peskov, Russian President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman.

Speaking on French radio today (Tuesday) French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said “it is necessary to be extremely prudent, because this could be a cover for the Russians to practice a policy of ‘fait accompli.”

Poroshenko on Monday agreed to an “international humanitarian mission for Luhansk under the aegis of the International Committee of the Red Cross with participation of the E.U., Russia, Germany and other partners,” according to Ukraine officials.

Russian news agency ITAR-TASS quoted a Russian Emergencies Ministry spokesman as saying 2,000 tons of supplies - including baby food, medicine and drinking water - left Moscow early Tuesday for the Ukrainian border.

Ukraine government stance

Valeriy Chaly, deputy head of the Ukrainian presidential administration, said his government is "not considering" allowing the convoy to enter Ukraine.

He said the Russian aid would be loaded onto vehicles provided by the ICRC, which will be responsible for coordinating and delivering international aid to eastern Ukraine.

Still, Ukraine activists in eastern Ukraine say international aid should have been available much earlier in the conflict.

They say if it had already done so the Kremlin would have less of an argument to make about the need for Moscow to send aid.

The United Nation ‘s refugee agency estimates 117,000 easterners are internally displaced having fled the fighting but activists and European diplomats say that number is grossly inaccurate and suspect double that number have been forced to leave the war zone.

“Throughout the conflict refugee numbers have been seriously under-estimated,” a European diplomat, who asked not to be identified.

“There are no real statistics being kept on this by Kyiv authorities and many people who have left their homes, especially the young, don’t try to register with the authorities in the municipalities they are now living in often with friends or relatives,” the diploamt said.

Residents flee

Luhansk, a hardscrabble town deep in mining country, had a pre-insurgency population of 450,000 but city authorities there recently claimed 200,000 have left.

And the Kremlin has made much of a statistic released by Russia’s Federal Migration Service that more than 160,000 Ukrainians have requested residency permits. The U.N. estimates at least 168,000 Ukrainians from the Donbas region have crossed into Russia.

For the displaced remaining in Ukraine “here has to be a humanitarian strategy to help the refugees,” said organized labor leader Volynko.

“People can’t get their pensions and can’t even register at hospitals in the rest of the country because they are told they have to have their medical notes from Donetsk and they are impossible to get,” he said.

He said there is only space for 30,000 in government-run shelters.

In Kyiv, though, there is growing resentment towards refugees from the east with locals saying that while their sons and husbands are fighting and dying in the Donbas, easterners are not pulling their weight in the battle against the separatists.

Classified adverts listing vacant rental accommodation in the capital often now advise easterners will not be considered.

But in Dnepropetrovsk, Ukraine's fourth largest city populated mainly by Russian-speakers, locals are highly sympathetic to people displaced from Donetsk.

"Some hotels here are offering discounts to people from Donetsk," said Kate, a language student.  

She said it was impossible to stay in Donetsk and the city has become more unpredictable and dangerous.

"Gunmen who have been driven out of neighboring towns are making life more. difficult," she said.

VOA's Gabe Joselow contributed to this report from Kyiv.

 

You May Like

Egypt's Suez Canal Dreams Tempered by Continued Unrest

Seen as a potential driver of recovery, Cairo’s plan to expand waterway had been raising hopes to give country much needed economic boost More

Ebola Maternity Ward in Sierra Leone First of its Kind

Country already had one of world's highest maternal mortality rates before Ebola arrived, virus has added even more complications to health care More

Malaysia Flight 370 Disappearance Ruled Accident

Aircraft disappeared on March 8, 2014; with ruling, families of 239 passengers and crew can now seek compensation from airline More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Groundbreaking Hand-Painted Documentary About Van Gogh in Productioni
X
George Putic
January 29, 2015 9:43 PM
The troubled life of the famous 19th century Dutch painter Vincent van Gogh has been told through many books and films, but never in the way a group of filmmakers now intends to do. "Loving Vincent " will be the first ever feature-length film made of animated hand-painted images, done in the style of the late artist. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Groundbreaking Hand-Painted Documentary About Van Gogh in Production

The troubled life of the famous 19th century Dutch painter Vincent van Gogh has been told through many books and films, but never in the way a group of filmmakers now intends to do. "Loving Vincent " will be the first ever feature-length film made of animated hand-painted images, done in the style of the late artist. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Rock-Consuming Organisms Alter Views of Life Processes

Scientists thought they knew much about how life works, until a discovery more than two decades ago challenged conventional beliefs. Scientists found that there are organisms that breathe rocks. And it is only recently that the scientific community is accepting that there are organisms that could get energy out of rocks. Correspondent Elizabeth Lee reports.
Video

Video Paris Attacks Highlight Global Weapons Black Market

As law enforcement officials piece together how the Paris and Belgian terror cells carried out their recent attacks, questions are being asked about how they obtained military grade assault weapons - which are illegal in the European Union. As VOA's Jeff Swicord reports, experts say there is a very active worldwide black market for these weapons, and criminals and terrorists are buying.
Video

Video Activists Accuse China of Targeting Religious Freedom

The U.S.-based Chinese religious rights group ChinaAid says 2014 was the worst year for religious freedom in China since the end of the Cultural Revolution. As Ye Fan reports, activists say Beijing has been tightening religious controls ever since Chinese leader Xi Jinping came to office. Hu Wei narrates.
Video

Video Super Bowl Ads Compete for Eyes on TV, Web

Super Bowl Sunday (Feb. 1) is about more than just the NFL's American football championship and big parties to watch the game. Viewers also tune in for the world famous commercials that send Facebook and Twitter abuzz. Daniela Schrier reports on the social media rewards for America’s priciest advertising.
Video

Video Theologians Cast Doubt on Morality of Drone Strikes

In 2006, stirred by photos of U.S. soldiers mistreating Iraqi prisoners, a group of American faith leaders and academics launched the National Religious Campaign Against Torture. It played an important role in getting Congress to investigate, and the president to ban, torture. VOA's Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Freedom on Decline Worldwide, Report Says

The state of global freedom declined for the ninth consecutive year in 2014, according to global watchdog Freedom House's annual report released Wednesday. VOA's William Gallo has more.
Video

Video MRI Seems to Help Diagnose Prostate Cancer, Preliminary Study Shows

Just as with mammography used to detect breast cancer, there's a lot of controversy about tests used to diagnose prostate cancer. Fortunately, a new study shows doctors may now have a more reliable way to diagnose prostate cancer for high risk patients. More from VOA's Carol Pearson.
Video

Video Smartphones About to Make Leap, Carry Basic Senses

Long-distance communication contains mostly sounds and pictures - for now. But scientists in Britain say they are close to creating additions for our smartphones that will make it possible to send taste, smell and even a basic touch. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Former Sudan 'Lost Boy' Becomes Chess Master in NYC

In the mid-1980’s, thousands of Sudanese boys escaped the country's civil war by walking for weeks, then months and finally for more than a year, up to 1,500 kilometers across three countries. The so-called Lost Boys of the Sudan had little time for games. But one of them later mastered the game of chess, and now teaches it to children in the New York area. VOA’s Bernard Shusman in New York has his story.
Video

Video NASA Monitors Earth’s Vital Signs From Space

The U.S. space agency, NASA, is wrapping up its busiest 12-month period in more than a decade, with three missions launched in 2014 and two this month, one in early January and the fifth scheduled for January 29. As VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports, the instruments being lifted into orbit are focused on Earth’s vital life support systems and how they are responding to a warmer planet.
Video

Video Crowded Republican Presidential Field Off to Early Start for 2016

It seems early, but the 2016 U.S. presidential election campaign is already heating up. Though no one has officially announced a candidacy, several potential Republican contenders have been busy speaking to conservative groups about making a White House run next year. Many of the possible contenders are critical of the Obama administration’s foreign policy record. VOA national correspondent Jim Malone reports.

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More

All About America

AppleAndroid