EASTERN UKRAINE - Nearly 3.5 million people caught up in the conflict in eastern Ukraine urgently need humanitarian aid, according to the United Nations, which says its assistance program has received a fraction of the funding it needs.
Populations live under the constant threat of artillery and gun fire, mines and unexploded ordinance, and now face growing food insecurity and outbreaks of diseases, the U.N. said.
Earlier this week, United States’ Special Envoy to Ukraine Kurt Volker, along with U.S. Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch, visited the front-line town of Popasna and spoke to several civilians living in the conflict zone.
On both sides of the contact line, the United Nations says the populations face a humanitarian crisis. There are more than 1 million civilian crossings each month over the front lines through five checkpoints, forcing families to make time-consuming and dangerous journeys. Food insecurity has doubled in 12 months. Medical facilities have been destroyed, with grave consequences for health.
“HIV, instead of being limited to marginal groups, such as sex workers or drug users, it’s now mainstreaming throughout the population. You also have, which should be a huge concern for all of Europe, you have multidrug resistant tuberculosis, extremely multidrug resistant tuberculosis,” Neal Walker, the United Nations’ resident coordinator in Ukraine, told VOA in an interview.
Out of the spotlight
Despite those dangers, he says the conflict has fallen out of the global spotlight.
“We’re about 10 or 12 percent funding of what we’ve asked for, and we’re halfway through the year. What worries me deeply is that as you pass through years of conflict, imagine for an 8-year-old child, half his life has been in the middle of a conflict. Children attend school and the windows are sandbagged and they have drills to get themselves into the basement immediately when the shelling starts,” Walker said.
It is the young and elderly suffering most. The U.N. says 600,000 elderly people living in rebel-held territory can’t access their pensions. At the opening of a U.S.-funded community center in Slovyansk, Volker urged Russia to help end the war.
“It is a tragedy to see this conflict continue affecting the local population. And of course, Russia says that one of its objectives is protecting a Russian-speaking population. The most important thing it could do to help that population is to remove its forces,” he said.
Diplomatic efforts to end the conflict have stalled. For the civilians caught in the middle, the dangers of war are being compounded by a humanitarian crisis.