NEW: Civilian water technicians come under fire yet again despite safety guarantees
In eastern Ukraine, yet another “window of silence” – a no-fire arrangement around critical infrastructure -- was brokered last week. This time, to repair the damage caused by shelling to a local water pipeline, which supplies water to some 43,000 people in Toretsk and nearby settlements on both sides of the “contact line”. Like previous agreements, this one did not hold long enough, as water technicians came under heavy shelling on 25 December, while carrying out necessary repair works. This time, casualties were avoided. However, it is not always the case.
Water technicians in eastern Ukraine have come under attack dozens of time while carrying out vital work. Since the conflict broke in 2014, nine of them have lost their lives, and 23 have been injured. They were simply trying to keep water running to millions of people, risking their own lives. They often have to take to bomb shelters, when the next shelling starts near their workplace, often spending nights in these shelters.
Water infrastructure continues to come under constant attack in eastern Ukraine. This year alone, 88 incidents were registered, impacting critical water and sanitation facilities, including due to shelling and landmine explosion, disrupting access to water to millions of people on both sides of the “contact line”. In December alone, these facilities were affected 11 times. The stoppage of the water supply could lead to severe consequences, including the blockage of heating systems, which rely on an uninterrupted water system, during the harsh winter season.
Despite repeated calls and clear agreements, including through local “windows of silence”, obligations under International Humanitarian Law to protect civilians and critical infrastructure continue to be neglected. On the eve of New Year, the ceasefire was reinforced yet again. It is hoped that this time, it will bring the peace that the people of eastern Ukraine have hoped for.