GENEVA - The U.N. refugee agency reports it has received the go-ahead from the de facto separatist rulers in eastern Ukraine to help repair thousands of homes damaged or destroyed during the military conflict there.
Pro-Russian separatists in the regions of Donetsk and Luhansk have been fighting the Ukrainian government since April 2014. The war has claimed 9,553 lives and wounded more than 22,100. It has left much devastation in its wake.
The U.N. refugee agency reports it has, for the first time in five months, been able to reach thousands of people in the Luhansk region of eastern Ukraine. It says it has been able to deliver vitally-needed construction materials to repair homes damaged or destroyed in the conflict.
Since the conflict began, more than 2 million people have been forced to flee their homes and seek refuge in other parts of the country or abroad. UNHCR spokesman William Spindler says life has been a nightmare for the many others who remained.
“During an assessment mission in Luhansk in May, UNHCR officials met a 77-year-old former construction worker named Petro and his wife. They had lived in a tiny basement room - the only part of their shelled home that protected them from snow, rain and wind - for more than two years,” Spindler said.
The UNHCR estimates some 10,000 houses in non-government controlled areas of Luhansk have been damaged. It says many homes damaged by shelling and mortar fire had their windows broken and roofs blown off.
Spindler says restrictions on freedom of movement are aggravating hardships for people like Petro. He told VOA people have to go to the government-controlled side of Luhansk to get benefits and entitlements, including pensions.
“That poses a lot of difficulties for people with reduced mobility. And, even for fit people because of the long delays and the long time you have to wait at the checkpoints to cross. Whether you are driving or walking, you have to wait for hours because of the different bureaucratic procedures that you have to complete to do that,” he said.
Spindler says a UNHCR team in Luhansk, working with a local construction company and volunteers, plans to have 1,500 homes rehabilitated by October. He says this is in addition to 1,500 other households that were repaired last year.