- STEPHANIE NEBEHAY
Hundreds of thousands of people in eastern Ukraine live in deplorable conditions, with limited access to basic services and under the constant threat of shelling and landmines, the Red Cross said on Wednesday in a context of escalating tensions between Kyiv and Moscow.
With countries heavily focused at the moment on mustering Russian troops along Ukraine’s borders, there is a serious risk that they will ignore the fate of those trapped since 2014 in the crossfire between forces in Kiev and Russian-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine, he said.
Local residents gather near a trailer loaded with boxes containing food and personal hygiene products during the distribution of humanitarian aid from the International Committee of the Red Cross in the city of Donetsk, Ukraine, controlled by the rebels, March 17, 2021. PHOTO: Reuters /Alexander Ermoshenko/File photo.
Low-intensity hostilities persist despite frequent ceasefires, sometimes resulting in civilian injuries or damage to critical infrastructure such as water pumping stations, a senior official with the International Committee of the Cross has said. Red.
“There are densely populated areas that regularly suffer the direct effects of shooting, shelling, etc. You have victims of mines and unexploded ordnance,” said Martin Schuepp, ICRC regional director for Europe and Central Asia.
“Hundreds of thousands of people have been and continue to be affected by this conflict, and I think that’s something that’s too often overlooked in the current situation,” he told Reuters during an interview. an interview at ICRC headquarters.
Russia has massed more than 100,000 troops on the Ukrainian border, stoking Western fears an invasion could trigger a far greater humanitarian catastrophe. Moscow denies plans to invade, but says it could take unspecified military action unless the West addresses its security concerns.
The ICRC has delivered life-saving relief since 2014 to both sides of the “line of contact” that separates eastern Ukraine, and to many families, said Schuepp, a Swiss national.
He described the cumulative psychological toll of people who must be constantly alert to landmines, who can be woken up at any time of the night by artillery fire, and whose children may have to scramble for cover in going to school.
The ICRC is deploying 600 aid workers to Ukraine, including 400 in the east, its 10th largest operation in the world, Schuepp said.
Last year it delivered medical supplies to 51 hospitals on both sides of the contact line, provided food for families and helped repair damaged homes before winter. He also visits detainees and tries to find 800 missing people in a war that Kiev says has claimed more than 14,000 lives.
When asked if the ICRC was building capacity in anticipation of a possible wider conflict in Ukraine, Schuepp said it had “emergency stocks to meet unforeseen needs”. He declined to comment further on the ICRC’s emergency plans.