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UN Delivers Humanitarian Aid to Separatist-controlled Parts of Ukraine 

FILE - Residents gather near a trailer full of food and hygiene products from the International Committee of the Red Cross in the rebel-controlled city of Donetsk, Ukraine, March 17, 2021. U.N. agencies have made two such deliveries in April.

U.N. agencies have delivered 23 tons of hygiene items to civilians in the rebel-controlled part of eastern Ukraine, the United Nations said Friday.

This was the second time this month that a U.N.-organized humanitarian convoy had been allowed to cross the 500-kilometer contact line, which separates Ukrainian government forces from the Russian-backed rebels. The first delivery on April 15 consisted of 18 tons of COVID-19 supplies.

Jens Laerke, spokesman for the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, said the one crossing point in the divided country had been closed since February 24 because of security concerns.

“The reopening is welcome, as needs remain very high with nearly 1.7 million people in need of assistance in the non-government-controlled areas of Donetsk and Luhansk," Laerke said. "The elderly, people with disabilities, female-headed households and children are among the most vulnerable.”

Humanitarian access to the separatist area has been extremely difficult since March. The COVID-19 pandemic has severely restricted movement across the contact line. That has limited the ability of people in the east to go to the government side of the demarcation line to pick up their pensions and social welfare benefits.

Laerke said restrictions on humanitarian access to the region had created great hardships for people suffering economic and health distress because of COVID-19, which is getting significantly worse.

The World Health Organization said COVID-19 infections in Ukraine have risen to more than 2 million cases, including 41,700 deaths.

“In March, Ukraine experienced a tripling of the number of COVID-19 cases nationwide, compared with February," Laerke said. "So, the curve is going up and not down. … Of course, as there has been a long period of no deliveries, there is, if you like, a pent-up demand for relief. So we very much hope that this can continue and increase.”

Laerke said humanitarian access to the Donetsk oblast was not the only requirement. He said money also was needed to provide lifesaving support to the nearly 1.7 million people. Unfortunately, he added, the U.N. is very short of cash as it has received only 13 percent of its $168 million appeal for Ukraine this year.