Fleeing for Their Lives, Ukrainians Become Refugees

People wait to cross from pro-Russian separatists’ controlled territory to Ukrainian government controlled areas in Stanytsia Luhanska, the only crossing point open daily, in the Luhansk region, eastern Ukraine, February 22, 2022. (Photo by Voice of America) Public domain

By Sunny Lewis for Maximpact

KYIV, Ukraine, March 3, 2022 (Maximpact.com Sustainability News) – As Russia’s assault on Ukraine intensifies, the fundraising drumroll for humanitarian assistance does too. With more than a million people having fled Ukraine during the first week of the Russian invasion, the multilateral banks, philanthropic foundations and the United Nations are urgently seeking donations to ease their lives.

Rockets have been “raining down” on Ukraine’s cities and hundreds of people have been killed or injured since the Russian military offensive began, the UN Secretary-General said on Tuesday, launching a US$1.7 billion flash appeal to provide assistance.

Members of an official delegation of representatives of the United Nations in Ukraine touch their hearts on a visit to the city court of Avdiivka, in the Ukraine’s Donetsk Oblast, which just re-opened after being shuttered for seven years. February 11, 2022 (Photo courtesy UN Development Programme Ukraine) Creative Commons license via Flickr

Secretary-General António Guterres told the UN Security Council on Monday during an urgent meeting on the humanitarian situation in Ukraine, Electricity and water supplies have been disrupted, roads have been damaged or destroyed by bombs and food and medicine are in short supply in some areas, Guterres said.  “We must help Ukrainians help each other through this terrible time.”

In Geneva, UN Emergency Relief Coordinator Martin Griffiths explained that the purpose of the call for immediate humanitarian funding is to help people inside Ukraine, the internally displaced as well as those seeking shelter beyond its borders.

The UN estimates that 12 million people inside Ukraine will need relief and protection, while more than four million refugees may need protection and assistance in neighboring countries in the coming months.

An estimated $1.1 billion is needed for the response inside Ukraine for three months, Griffiths said, announcing that $1.5 billion already has been pledgedin response to the humanitarian appeals.

UN Spokesperson Stephane Dujarric welcomed the “outpouring of support,” speaking to journalists in New York. “This is among the fastest and most generous responses a humanitarian flash appeal has ever received,” he said.

Also briefing journalists, UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi appealed for “$550 million for the refugee agency and 12 partner agencies.”

UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi of Italy heads the UN Refugee agency, which works worldwide to protect, assist and find solutions for refugees, internally displaced people and stateless populations. January 4, 2016 Geneva, Switzerland (Photo by S. Hopper courtesy UNHCR) Posted for media use

Noting that 520,000 people were estimated to have been displaced by the Ukraine crisis in just one night last week, Grandi said that these numbers have already risen sharply, in the space of just a few hours.

In Washington, DC, David Malpass of the United States, president of the World Bank Group, said on February 24, the day Russia first attacked, “The World Bank Group is horrified by the shocking violence and loss of life as a result of the events unfolding in Ukraine. We are a long-standing partner of Ukraine and stand with its people at this critical moment.”

“When I met with President Zelenskyy in Munich on Saturday, I reaffirmed the World Bank Group’s strong support and commitment to the people of Ukraine and the region,” Malpass said then.

On Tuesday, International Monetary Fund (IMF) Managing Director Kristalina Georgieva of Bulgaria joined Malpass in stating, “We are deeply shocked and saddened by the devastating human and economic toll brought by the war in Ukraine. People are being killed, injured, and forced to flee, and massive damage is caused to the country’s physical infrastructure. We stand with the Ukrainian people through these horrifying developments.

“The war is also creating significant spillovers to other countries. Commodity prices are being driven higher and risk further fueling inflation, which hits the poor the hardest. Disruptions in financial markets will continue to worsen should the conflict persist,” Malpass and Georgieva said.

The two financial institutions are working together to support Ukraine on the financing and policy fronts and are urgently increasing that support.

The IMF is responding to Ukraine’s request for emergency financing through the Rapid Financing Instrument. In addition, under Ukraine’s Stand-By Arrangement program,  an additional $2.2 billion is available between now and the end of June.

The World Bank Group is preparing a $3 billion package of support in the coming months, starting with a fast-disbursing budget support operation for at least $350 million that will be submitted to the Board for approval this week, followed by $200 million in fast-disbursing support for health and education.

Vast Majority of Nations Condemn Russian Agression

In an emergency special session, UN Member States Wednesday overwhelmingly adopted a resolution demanding the Russian Federation immediately end its invasion of Ukraine and unconditionally withdraw all its military forces, as the General Assembly continued its emergency session on the crisis.

Deploring in the strongest terms its aggression against Ukraine in violation of the Charter of the United Nations, the Assembly also demanded the Russian Federation immediately and unconditionally reverse its February 21 decision unilaterally designating certain areas of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions of Ukraine as independent nation states.

The measure was adopted by a vote of 141 in favor to five against – Belarus, North Korea, Eritrea, Russian Federation, and Syria – with 35 abstentions – a clear reaffirmation of the 193-member world body’s commitment to Ukraine’s sovereignty, independence, unity and territorial integrity.

On the humanitarian front, the General Assembly demanded that all parties allow safe and unfettered passage to destinations outside of Ukraine, facilitate rapid and unhindered access to those in need of assistance inside the country, and protect civilians and medical and humanitarian workers.

It further demanded that all parties fully comply with their obligations under international humanitarian law to spare the civilian population and civilian objects, condemning all violations in that regard and asking the United Nations Emergency Relief Coordinator to provide a report on the humanitarian situation in Ukraine and on the humanitarian response within 30 days.

Children Suffer the Most

Children in eastern Ukraine must navigate one of the world’s most mine-contaminated stretches of land. Every day, they live, play, and go to and from school in areas littered with landmines, unexploded ordnance, and other deadly explosive remnants of war, UNICEF warned on Friday. The experienced heads of UN agencies are intensifying their work to meet new threats of Russian agression in Eastern Europe.

Attacks on kindergartens and schools have been a reality for children in eastern Ukraine for nearly eight years, the UN Children’s agency said. “More than 750 schools have been damaged since the beginning of the conflict, disrupting access to education for thousands of children on both sides of the contact line,” the conflict’s front line.

Eastern Ukraine borders Russia, and currently, the two countries are in a state of war. The Russo-Ukrainian War began in 2014 when protests in Ukraine outsted a pro-Russian president and then Russia annexed the Ukrainian peninsula of Crimea, jutting out into the Black Sea from the north coast.

As Moscow annexed Crimea, President Vladimir Putin backed separatist insurgents who now control the Russian-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic and Luhansk People’s Republic, which until Monday were internationally considered part of eastern Ukraine. Since Putin declared the two regions “independent,” NATO allies have pushed back with sanctions and troop buildups of their own.

All of these years of conflict have been extremely difficult for the children caught in the situation and faced with danger every day. Since the onset of the conflict, UNICEF has been on the ground across eastern Ukraine, delivering psychosocial support and mine risk education to over 180,000 children and youth, and their caregivers.

“The conflict has taken a severe toll on the psychosocial wellbeing of an entire generation of children growing up in Eastern Ukraine,” UNICEF warns, experienced after its years of support for repairs to the hundreds of damaged schools and kindergartens and distributions of educational kits, furniture sets and sports equipment.

UNICEF is calling on all parties to respect the Safe School Declaration and protect children and their caregivers from attacks, regardless of the circumstances.

“Educational facilities should remain a safe space where children can be protected from threats and crises and a haven where they can learn, play, and grow to their full potential,” UNICEF declared. “A child’s right to education cannot be safeguarded in conflict settings without education itself being protected.”

UNICEF is now under the leaderhsip of a new executive director. Catherine Russell of the United States took over February 1, and lost no time in making her position on children’s rights clear. February 16 at the high-level briefing for the UN Secretary-General’s Report on the Global Compact for Migration, she said, “Around the world, far too many children are still being stranded and pushed back at borders.  They are still being separated from their families – exposing them to greater risk of exploitation and harm. And they are still missing out on the services and support they need to make the most of their lives, wherever their journeys take them.”

Water, Sanitation, Hygiene Throttled By Conflict

The need for clean water, sanitation, or hygiene-related (WASH) is still not filled in eastern Ukraine. After nearly eight years of conflict in Donetska and Luhanska oblasts, 2.5 million people, residents of conflict-affected oblasts and internally displaced persons, are water insecure due to the deadly political situation and war footing in the region.

“WASH needs are both large and small in scale, with emergency repairs to these two oblasts’ massive water and sewerage networks as necessary as the overhaul of household-level wells,” according to the “2022 Humanitarian Needs Overview,” published by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).

Historically, the water supply in eastern Ukraine relies on a single system managed by the state-run water company Voda Donbasu.

The conflict that erupted in 2014 has divided the region into Non-Government and Government-controlled areas (NGCA and GCA), creating complications for effective water management.

The primary source of drinking water, the Siverskyi Donets River, flows through the Government-controlled area, while the central water control station is located in Donetsk, currently beyond the Ukrainian Government’s control.

Many key water facilities are located in the so-called “gray zone” between GCA and NGCA, making both sides interdependent for their water supply. The location of several essential facilities close to the “contact line,” the conflict’s frontline, has frequently resulted in their damage and put at risk the lives of water workers.

According to the World Health Organization’s WASH Cluster group, 393 incidents have affected water infrastructure since 2017, killing nine Voda Donbasu workers and injuring another 26.

A recent study by the WASH Cluster in Government-controlled areas shows that 33 percent of households in GCA need support to access clean water, and a similar number need support to improve sanitation conditions, especially low income and disabled people within 20 km of the contact line.

People have the most difficulty with accessing improved water sources, uninterrupted water access and materials for water purification. Households need better immediate access to trucked-in water and bottled water in kiosks and shops. The unhygienic storage of water, such as in bath taps and containers without lids, creates additional health concerns.

Overall, the level of WASH needs is very similar in NGCA as compared to GCA. However, needs are spread rather unequally between the two NGCAs. NGCA of Luhanska oblast has greater WASH needs than NGCA of Donetska oblast: 55 percent of households in Luhanska oblast (NGCA) need water-related assistance compared to only 23 percent in Donetska oblast (NGCA).

In 2022, humanitarian actors plan to support 1.5 million most vulnerable. $29.8 million is required to provide WASH-related support to as many vulnerable people as possible this year. A detailed account of how humanitarian actors plan to support conflict-weary people in 2022 can be accessed here.

Refugees, Migrants Targeted for Violence

Filippo Grandi, the long-serving UN High Commissioner for Refugees, on Monda said in a passionate statement that he is “…deeply concerned by the increasing number of incidents of violence and serious human rights violations against refugees and migrants at various European borders, several of which have resulted in tragic loss of life.”

“Violence, ill-treatment and pushbacks continue to be regularly reported at multiple entry points at land and sea borders, within and beyond the European Union, despite repeated calls by UN agencies, including UNHCR, intergovernmental organizations and NGOs to end such practices,” he announced.

“We are alarmed by recurrent and consistent reports coming from Greece’s land and sea borders with Turkey, where UNHCR has recorded almost 540 reported incidents of informal returns by Greece since the beginning of 2020,” Grandi said.

Disturbing incidents are also reported in Central and South-eastern Europe at the borders with EU Member States, he said. Although many incidents go unreported for various reasons, UNHCR has interviewed thousands of people across Europe who were pushed back and reported a disturbing pattern of threats, intimidation, violence and humiliation.

“At sea,” Grandi said, “people report being left adrift in life rafts or sometimes even forced directly into the water, showing a callous lack of regard for human life. At least three people are reported to have died in such incidents since September 2021 in the Aegean Sea, including one in January.”

“Equally horrific practices are frequently reported at land borders, with consistent testimonies of people being stripped and brutally pushed back in harsh weather conditions,” he disclosed.

Grandi said that with few exceptions, European States have failed to investigate these reports, despite what he described as “mounting, credible evidence.”

“Instead, walls and fences are being erected at various frontiers. In addition to denial of entry at borders, we have also received reports that some refugees may have been returned to their country of origin, despite the risks they faced there, which may be at variance with the international legal principle of non-refoulement,” Grandi said.

“The right to seek and enjoy asylum does not depend on the mode of arrival to a country,” he declared. “People who wish to apply for asylum should be allowed to do so and they should be made aware of their rights and provided legal assistance.”

“People fleeing war and persecution have few available options. Walls and fences are unlikely to serve as a meaningful deterrent,” he said. “They will just contribute to greater suffering of individuals in need of international protection, particularly women and children, and prompt them to consider different, often more dangerous, routes, and likely result in further deaths.”

UN Human Rights Chief ‘Deeply Concerned’

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet, a former president of Chile, commented on the situation in Ukraine, saying from Geneva on Tuesday, “Following the decision announced by the President of the Russian Federation last night on Ukraine, I am deeply concerned that any significant escalation in military action creates a heightened risk of serious human rights violations as well as violations of international humanitarian law.”

“At this critical juncture, the priority, above all, must be to prevent a further escalation, to prevent civilian casualties, displacement and destruction of civilian infrastructure,” Bachelet said. “I call on all sides to cease hostilities and to pave the way for dialogue instead of setting the stage for further violence.”

The UN agencies continue to monitor the situation closely from offices on both sides of the contact line in the east of the country.

“What is happening at European borders is legally and morally unacceptable and must stop,” demanded Grandi. “Protecting human life, human rights and dignity must remain our shared priority. Progress on preventing human rights violations at borders as well as the establishment of truly independent national monitoring mechanisms to ensure reporting and independent investigation of incidents are urgently needed.”

“It is possible to manage borders and address security concerns, while implementing fair, humane and efficient policies towards asylum-seekers that are in line with States’ obligations under international human rights and refugee law including the 1951 Convention as well as European law,” he said, giving the EU credit for support of human rights in the past.

The way Europe chooses to protect asylum-seekers and refugees matters, Grandi said, emphasizing that Europe’s attitude is “precedent-setting not only in the region but also globally.

“European countries have long been strong supporters of UNHCR’s work and are providing important contributions that help to protect refugees and support host countries,” Grandi acknowledged. “Yet financial and capacity support abroad cannot replace States’ responsibilities and obligations to receive and protect refugees in their own territory.”

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