Ukraine

Situation Report

Highlights

  • While the “contact line” remains largely closed, residents of areas beyond Government control are forced to enter Government-controlled areas through Russia
  • After years of displacement aggravated by COVID-19, internally displaced persons from eastern Ukraine remain in need of housing solutions and predictable income
  • Urgent funding is required to meet the needs of 1.9 million people until the end of 2021
Chermalyk village, Donetska oblast, GCA, Ukraine.
A humanitarian worker delivers heating fuel to Vladyslav, 90 years old, who lives alone just a few kilometres away from the “contact line”. Photo: OCHA/Yevhen Maloletka

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Ukraine

Situation Report

Key Figures

3.4M
People in need
1.9M
People targeted
120
Partners
96
Projects
0.8M
People reached in January-June 2021

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Ukraine

Situation Report

Funding

$168M
Required
$93.4M
Received
56%
Progress
FTS

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Contacts

Ignacio Leon Garcia

Head of Office

Anvar Munavvarov

Desk Officer

Lizaveta Zhuk

Head of Public Information & Reporting Unit

Ukraine

Situation Report
Analysis
People are waiting to cross the "contact line" in eastern Ukraine.
People are waiting to cross the "contact line" in eastern Ukraine. Photo: OCHA/ Yevhen Maloletka

While the “contact line” remains largely closed, residents of areas beyond Government control are forced to enter Government-controlled areas through Russia

The crossing through the “contact line” – a stretch of land that separates conflict-affected people residing in Government (GCA) and non-Government-controlled areas (NGCA) of eastern Ukraine – has been severely limited for over 18 months now. Temporary restrictions put in place by the Government of Ukraine and entities in control of NGCAs in March 2020 to contain the spread of COVID-19 have prevented hundreds of thousands of people from travelling across the “contact line” to access essential services and maintain social connections with the other side. Due to these restrictions, thousands of people have been forced to take longer, more expensive and legally challenging routes through the territory of the Russian Federation (Russia) to reach GCA.

While the movement restrictions have eased somewhat over time, the crossing of the “contact line” remains particularly challenging in Donetska oblast. People seeking to cross must obtain permission from the entities in control of Donetska oblast, but this permission is only granted in exceptional humanitarian circumstances and has led to a drastic drop in crossings within the oblast. In August 2021, the level of crossings through the only officially operational entry/exit crossing point (EECP) in the oblast, “Novotroitske”, represented 6 per cent (5,812 individual crossings) of the total number of crossings of the “contact line” during the month (90,751, with the majority of crossings in Luhanska oblast). In August 2019, before the COVID-19 pandemic, the level of crossings through four operational EECPs in Donetska oblast represented 75 per cent of the total number of crossings. Overall, the number of crossings of the “contact line” in August 2021 was only 7 per cent of the August 2019 figure, when 1.3 million civilian crossings had been recorded.

Since the start of the pandemic, a gradual increase in crossings to/from GCA by NGCA residents was observed through the two crossing points located at the Russian-Ukrainian border: “Milove” in Luhanska oblast and “Hoptivka” in Kharkivska oblast. Between June and August 2021, an average of 206,181 individual crossings per month were observed through the crossing points at the Russian-Ukrainian border, with NGCA residents reportedly responsible for at least 30 to 40 per cent of crossings at “Milove” crossing point, compared with 89,870 crossings across the “contact line”. While there is no clear picture on the number of NGCA residents crossing to/from GCA through “Hoptivka” crossing point, it is considered to be at a similar level. Since the movement restrictions across the “contact line” are less severe within Luhanska oblast, the majority of crossings through the two border crossing points have reportedly been made by the residents of Donetska oblast, NGCA.

NGCA residents, primarily those residing in Donetska oblast, NGCA, have to travel almost 500 km to cross through “Milove”, the distance between Warsaw and Vilnius and two times the distance between Vienna and Budapest. They have to travel over 900 km to cross through “Hoptivka”, the distance between Rome and Bern and five times the distance between Brussels and Amsterdam. In comparison, the currently only operational EECP “Novotroitske” in Donetska oblast is located just some 40 km away from Donetsk, Donetska oblast, NGCA.

The cost of travel through crossing points on the Russian-Ukrainian border is also significantly higher compared with crossing the “contact line”, which ranged from UAH50 (US$2) to UAH600 ($23) before the introduction of COVID-19 restrictions. On average, NGCA residents spend UAH2,500-3,000 ($94 to $113) in transport costs and an additional UAH650-950 ($25-38) for a COVID-19 test to cancel mandatory self-quarantine for unvaccinated people or those who have been vaccinated with vaccines not approved by WHO for emergency use, which includes Sputnik V. The amount that the people have to spend for taking this detour is particularly challenging for NGCA pensioners, who have been receiving the so-called monthly social payments in NGCA amounting to some RUB8,900-10,000 ($117-135) for over a year and a half. Nevertheless, these people still choose to spend their savings to travel to GCA to withdraw their hard-earned pensions they rely on, especially during the upcoming winter months.

The situation was particularly dire during the application of administrative fines by Ukraine for entering GCA after crossing the uncontrolled part of the Russian-Ukrainian border. NGCA residents taking this detour had to pay between UAH1,700-5,100 ($64-192) for the first violation of crossing procedures and up to UAH8,500 ($320) for any repeated violation within a year. The situation was reported to be more severe at the “Milove” crossing point, where people had to spend up to 24 hours in a queue to be able to cross to GCA. Following the adoption of law No. 5478 on 29 July 2021, Ukrainians could be released from an obligation to pay a fine for the violation of crossing rules while the “contact line” remains largely closed if the crossing need corresponds with one of the humanitarian reasons listed in this law. This development has led to a significant decrease in the processing time, with no queues observed in the GCA direction since August, and a drop in a number of fines issued by the Ukrainian side, reportedly not exceeding a few per day. Disturbingly, lines of up to 28 hours have now been reportedly observed in the opposite direction (towards Russia).

Meanwhile, unlike “Hoptivka”, the “Milove” crossing point has not been designed to process large numbers of people and does not have adequate facilities to accommodate people waiting to cross. Originally intended as a regular border crossing point to serve local residents, today, “Milove” is used by trucks, civilian vehicles and pedestrians, yet, there is only one lane in each direction. Moreover, there is just one small room available where people can take shelter from bad weather. It has also been reported that the number of medical cases at the “Milove” usually ranges from three to five daily, with no medical assistance available directly at the crossing point.

Considering the increase in the number of people crossing “Milove” due to the limited operations of the “contact line”, the UN Refugee Agency and the Norwegian Refugee Council plan to start the reconstruction of the crossing point on 1 October to help increase its processing capacity as well as build additional facilities, including those that are currently unavailable (i.e., first aid point). The reconstruction is expected to take up to two months, while the crossing point will remain operational.

Worryingly, there have been reports that other crossing points at the Ukrainian-Russian border (i.e., “Yunakivka” crossing point in Sumska oblast) are encountering an increase in the number of NGCA residents crossing to GCA. Without the gradual easing of restrictions on crossing the “contact line”, which is currently unlikely due to the uptick in the COVID-19 incidence rate on both sides, it is anticipated that the number of NGCA residents entering GCA through crossing points at the Russian-Ukrainian border will continue increasing. At the same time, the most vulnerable categories of people in NGCA, who do not have enough savings to take this detour, will have to continue relying on meagre payments that they receive, which are hardly enough to cover the very basics. While taking this detour represents a temporary solution for some, without a reopening of the “contact line”, conflict-affected people’s vulnerabilities are expected to further deteriorate, and the already fragile ties between the once united community will likely continue to weaken.

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Ukraine

Situation Report
Analysis
IOM-IDPs-chart
Priority expenditures when distributing monthly income in IDP households

After years of displacement aggravated by COVID-19, internally displaced persons from eastern Ukraine remain in need of housing solutions and predictable income

In 2021, there are almost 1.5 million registered internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Ukraine, with approximately 745,000 IDPs residing more permanently in the Government-controlled areas (GCA) of Ukraine, while the rest – in the non-Government-controlled areas (NGCA). Aggravated by the COVID-19 pandemic and related restrictions, the situation is especially challenging for at least 340,000 IDPs residing in Donetska and Luhanska oblasts and elsewhere in GCA, who also require humanitarian assistance.

IDPs residing in GCA often face similar challenges regardless of their place of displacement, some of which have improved over time, while others have become more acute due to COVID-19. These challenges include higher unemployment rates compared with people in host communities and across the country, physical and bureaucratic hurdles to access social and administrative services, lack of access to adequate housing and livelihood opportunities, including predictable income. Lack of access to housing and predictable income are the main reasons many, especially the elderly, are forced to return to the NGCA while preserving their IDP status to be able to receive pensions and other social payments in GCA.

Economic implications of COVID-19

According to International Organization for Migration (IOM), the economic situation of vulnerable IDPs from eastern Ukraine remained dire, with half of the people surveyed during the first quarter of 2021 noting that they have “enough money only for food” or they have “to limit even food expenses”. The situation is reported to be worse among elderly IDPs (aged 60 and above) and people with disabilities, with 67 per cent and 69 per cent of respondents, respectively, reporting to be in a similarly complicated situation.

In March 2021, the average monthly income per IDP household member of UAH3,651 (US$137) remained 14 per cent lower than subsistence level [1] (UAH4,224 or $159) and some 40 per cent less compared with the average income per household member across the country (UAH6,267 or $235 as of December 2020). Salary and government support for IDPs remained the largest source of income (60 and 54 per cent, respectively), with female-headed households with children, the elderly and families with a member with a disability reporting to be more reliant on government support.

Priority expenses for IDPs stayed consistent with the previous assessment round. The majority of IDPs prioritized purchasing food (87 per cent of respondents), paying utility bills (78 per cent) and housing rent (57 per cent). For IDPs residing in rural areas, the expense of heating fuel during winter months was an additional priority (47 per cent). Respondents also noted that they observed a significant increase in price of electricity (18 per cent) and other utility costs (16 per cent). Overall, the increase in spending on utilities and the lack of opportunities to return to the place of habitual residence were reported to be the most pressing concerns for 13 per cent and 8 per cent of surveyed IDPs, accordingly.

On a positive note, despite the negative impact of the COVID-19 crisis on the labour market, the share of employed IDPs aged 20–64 slightly increased (60 per cent) compared with 2020 (around 55 per cent), but was still lower than the employment rate of the general population in the same age group (65 per cent).

Other impacts of COVID-19

Different groups of IDPs continue to encounter varying challenges in host communities. For female-headed households with children, unemployment remains a primary issue, while for households with people with disabilities, access to health-care services and medication is a major concern. People aged 60 and above were primarily preoccupied with the lack of opportunities to return to their permanent place of residence in the conflict-affected region. The COVID-19 pandemic has put additional strain on the psychological state of IDPs, whose mental health is already affected by conflict-related trauma and bereavement. Most of the respondents were worried about their health and the health and safety of their close ones (69 and 73 per cent, respectively). Between December 2020 and March 2021, over 50 per cent became more concerned about their financial situation and the possibility to afford necessary food and medicines. As explained by a 33-year-old IDP who lost her job in a private pre-school after the lockdown started, “I feel like I have been plagued with a constant fear that my family would have nothing to live on if my husband loses his job too.”

Due to the limitations on the freedom of movement across the “contact line”, IDPs who have close family members residing in NGCA were most concerned about the broken family connections (33 per cent) and their inability to help relatives and friends still living there (29 per cent).

Integration and housing solutions for IDPs

After over seven years since the conflict broke out in eastern Ukraine, 89 per cent of surveyed IDPs report that they feel that they have been able to successfully integrate to some degree into their host communities. For most respondents, the main preconditions for successful integration were housing and regular income. At the same time, compared with previous assessment rounds, respondents put more value in having “family and friends in the same place”.

Among all existing concerns, long-term and permanent housing solutions remain the priority for IDPs. The majority of IDPs spend a high proportion of their income on rent, which leaves them with a bare minimum to cover their other basic needs. At the same time, available housing solutions are not available at the level required to meet the needs of the most vulnerable IDPs. The affordable housing programme, which envisages the 50/50 split of the housing cost between the state and an IDP household, and various preferential mortgage schemes are in the highest demand among IDPs. [3] Yet, the amount of available funding — about UAH340 million (US$12.8 million) envisaged in the 2021 national budget and EUR25.5 million under the KfW agreement (about $30 million) — is far below the level required to meet the needs of hundreds of thousands of people in long-term housing. According to a market analysis done by an Association of Real Estate Professionals, depending on the region, apartments worth $30,000 to $50,000 are in the highest demand in the secondary market in Ukraine. Therefore, the allocated 2021 financing for housing programmes would provide long-term solutions for only several thousand IDP families. [3]

Required assistance

After years of displacement, the most vulnerable IDPs continue to rely on humanitarian assistance and need sustainable housing solutions and livelihood opportunities. More specifically, IDP households with elderly members or members with disabilities require assistance with improving their access to and affordability of health-care services, including mental health support. In addition, IDPs living in rural areas require support with covering the cost of heating fuel and utility expenses, primarily heating and electricity, as tariffs and prices continue to increase disproportionally to salaries, pension and other social payments. The gradual reopening of the “contact line” is another precondition for improving the situation of conflict-affected IDPs living in GCA with homes, family and friends residing in NGCA. Restoring social connections will not only help IDPs improve their psychological state but also help mend ties between the communities on both sides of the “contact line”, contributing to reconciliation and social reintegration.

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[1] calculated by the Ministry of Social Policy of Ukraine

[2] Norwegian Refugee Council. Report on Housing for IDPs in Ukraine: Steps Towards Durable Solutions, August 2021

[3] According to the 2021 Humanitarian Needs Overview, out of 1.45 million IDPs registered by the Ministry of Social Policy of Ukraine as of September 2020, estimated 745,000 IDPs live permanently in GCA.

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Ukraine

Situation Report
Analysis
A family is sitting in their house close to the “contact line”. Photo: OCHA/Yevhen Maloletka
A family is sitting in their house close to the “contact line”. Photo: OCHA/Yevhen Maloletka

Urgent funding is required to meet the needs of 1.9 million people until the end of 2021

In its eighth year, the humanitarian crisis caused by the on-going conflict in eastern Ukraine remains dire. Millions of people on both sides of the “contact line” face fatal risks, have limited access to essential services and experience shrinking livelihood opportunities daily. Moreover, the COVID-19 pandemic and its socioeconomic ramifications have strained the resilience of conflict-affected communities, increasing their reliance on humanitarian aid to survive.

Of the 3.4 million people identified as in need of humanitarian assistance, some 1.9 million people are planned to be assisted through the highly prioritized Ukraine Humanitarian Response Plan (HRP), which seeks US$168 million during 2021. The needs, however, continue to outpace the funding, with only 28 per cent of the requisite funding received ($47.1 million) as of 1 September 2021. At the current pace of contributions, the Plan is feared to become one of the least funded appeals since the onset of the conflict in 2014.

With this in mind, the Humanitarian Country Team in Ukraine has prepared the Humanitarian Funding Priorities Document, in which it has identified $49 million of priority life-saving humanitarian actions across six main sectors [1] to be funded during the remainder of the year: education, food security and livelihoods, health, protection, shelter and non-food items, water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH).

When defining the most critical needs for the remainder of 2021, three key criteria were applied during the prioritization exercise: (i) all dimensions of time criticality, including seasonality of activities and the projected situation with COVID-19, (ii) focus on the most vulnerable groups, and (iii) probability of immediate implementation once the funding is made available.

Supporting time-critical needs and most vulnerable

The long winter period in Ukraine, which lasts from November to March, is traditionally a lean season when farming is limited, job opportunities are scarce, and people’s incomes deplete. In addition, many conflict-affected people are expected to be forced to cut back on their food and other critical expenses ahead of winter to afford coal or firewood to keep their houses warm. The humanitarian community estimates that it will require $5.4 million, or $180 per person, to provide food assistance to 30,000 food-insecure people on both sides of the “contact line” to help them survive another winter.

Some vulnerable groups, such as pensioners, can barely afford to stock up on coal or other fuel to heat their houses. With the minimum required quantity of coal costing around UAH7,000 ($260), pensioners in eastern Ukraine, who receive some UAH3,000 ($110) per month on average, must make savings from their meagre income over several months to get through winter months. To help these most vulnerable conflict-weary people, humanitarians seek $14.7 million to support 107,000 people living close to the “contact line” and in isolated settlements with heaters, fuel, and other assistance to stay warm during the winter.

Capitalizing on arising opportunities

While the summer brought some respite from COVID-19, with a drop in new COVID-19 cases and lower hospitalization rates across Ukraine, including the conflict-affected areas, the downward trend of new COVID-19 cases has started to reverse. It is now projected that a new wave of infections will likely hit Ukraine in October-November.

Humanitarian actors seek $7.5 million to support the already overstretched health-care systems in the conflict-affected region. The prioritized provision of medicines and essential medical equipment and services and support to 51 primary health-care facilities in both GCA and NGCA will indirectly benefit more than 340,000 people living in the conflict-torn region. Activities to support COVID-19 prevention, containment and treatment – strengthening laboratory capacities and supporting vaccination rollout support – will help mitigate public health risks and slow the virus spread.

Humanitarian access to areas beyond Government control has also improved during summer 2021, bringing new opportunities for humanitarian actors to scale up their operations. The recently improved access will allow resuming provision of protection services to 310,000 people in NGCA, which to date during 2021 had not been possible due to access restrictions. If the required funding comes in, education partners will also be able to provide school equipment and conduct small-scale repairs and rehabilitation of 10 conflict-affected educational facilities in NGCA. This will help ensure that at least 15,000 students can continue their education uninterrupted.

You can view all funding priorities for the remainder of 2021 here.

How to contribute

Funding sought to meet the identified urgent requirements should be channelled through the 2021 HRP projects and partners. Donors interested in supporting are invited to consult with the relevant clusters or consider contributing to the Ukraine Humanitarian Fund (UHF), a flexible multi-donor pooled fund to respond to a changing operational environment and needs.

It is critical for the UN and its humanitarian partners to receive the required funding as early as possible to launch humanitarian interventions in September-October to allow sufficient time to deliver assistance. For aid recipients in isolated settlements close to the “contact line”, physical access may also be complicated in winter.

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[1] This targeted appeal does not seek to supersede the 2021 HRP, which remains the overall humanitarian framework for Ukraine in 2021.

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Ukraine

Situation Report
Trends

COVID-19 update (Government-controlled areas)

You can access the latest information on the COVID-19 situation in Ukraine (in English), including the GCA of Donetska and Luhanska oblasts, here: https://covid19.rnbo.gov.ua. You can access the latest information on the COVID-19 vaccination in Ukraine (Ukrainian only) here: https://health-security.rnbo.gov.ua/vaccination.

  • The first COVID-19 case in Ukraine (GCA) was recorded on 29 February 2020.

  • As of the beginning of October, most restrictions on entering Ukraine have been lifted. Currently, to cross the border into Ukraine, foreigners and stateless persons are required to provide proof of medical insurance that is valid in Ukraine for the duration of the stay that will provide coverage of costs associated with the treatment of COVID-19 as well as any necessary observation period. Furthermore, foreign nationals must provide a negative PCR or antigen test taken within 72 hours before the arrival or a confirmation of a partial or complete vaccination with WHO-listed vaccines. From 20 September 2021, foreign nationals transiting through Ukraine, who can confirm that they will leave Ukraine within 48 hours, are exempt from self-isolation and testing requirements. Testing and vaccination confirmation are also not required for children under 12 years old. You can find more information on entry to Ukraine here.

  • To travel to GCA through the “contact line”, people have to install a tracking mobile app Dii Vdoma and undergo a 10-day self-quarantine, which has to start no later than 72 hours after crossing. The self-quarantine requirement can be terminated based on a negative result of a PCR or antigen test taken during the crossing. People who cannot install the tracking mobile app must agree to observation in a designated facility, which can also be terminated after receiving a negative COVID-19 test. The self-isolation requirement does not apply to some categories of people, which include employees of international missions and organizations accredited in Ukraine. People who can confirm receiving at least one dose of WHO-listed vaccines or who cross the “contact line” for vaccination purposes (confirmed by a unique vaccination invitation) are exempt from the self-quarantine requirement.

  • Containment measures: To minimize the risk of transmission across the country, the Government of Ukraine introduced an adaptive quarantine, which was recently extended until 31 December 2021.

  • According to the new rules, which came into force in September 2020, the entire territory of the country may be in the “green” or “yellow” COVID-19 risk zones with “orange” or “red” levels to be declared in specific locations, depending on the epidemiological situation. From 23 September, Ukraine is in the “yellow” zone, which requires wearing face masks in public places and on public transportation, maintaining physical distancing of 1.5 metres, and not exceeding 50 per cent occupancy rate at public events (no more than one person per 4 square metres). From September, two types of internal COVID-19 vaccination certificates are valid in Ukraine: “yellow” ones issued to people vaccinated with one dose of WHO-approved COVID-19 vaccines and “green” certificates issued to fully vaccinated people. In the “yellow” COVID-19 risk zones, education facilities may continue regular classes if at least 80 per cent of teachers have COVID-19 certificates, while in the ”red zones”, 100 per cent vaccination of education personnel is required to continue in-person learning. Furthermore, businesses, such as entertainment and sports facilities, malls, cafes, etc., may choose to continue working even if in a “yellow-zone”, if 80 per cent of visitors and staff hold “green” national certificates. In “red-zone” locations, 100 per cent of both personnel and visitors have to be vaccinated for businesses to continue operations.

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Situation Report
Trends

COVID-19 update (non-Government-controlled areas)

Local sources reportedly confirm 96,595 COVID-19 cases as of 22 October 2021.

  • Total cases: 96,595 (15,767 active cases and 8,225 deaths).

  • Luhanska oblast (NGCA): 17,114 cases (2,456 active cases and 2,043 deaths) as of 22 October. First case: 31 March 2020.

  • Donetska oblast (NGCA): 79,481 cases (13,311 active cases and 6,182 deaths) as of 22 October. First case: 29 March 2020.

  • Overview of containment measures: Due to a deteriorating epidemiological situation, the Luhanska oblast (NGCA) has banned public events and the attendance of sport and leisure facilities and public institutions from 13 October until further notice. The operation of cafes and restaurants has also been suspended apart from takeaway and delivery services. Schools have started an autumn break early (from 13 to 22 October), while other education facilities switched to online learning modalities. Businesses are recommended to switch to telecommuting when possible. Residents above 65 years are required to self-quarantine. Similarly, on 27 September, the Donetska oblast (NGCA) switched higher education institutions and vocational schools to remote learning modalities until further notice. The schools started an extended three-week autumn break, after which they are expected to continue studies online. The restrictions on movement across the “contact line” also remain in place.

  • In June 2021, the entities in control in the NGCAs of Donetska and Luhanska oblasts reportedly lifted the ban on travelling between the two NGCAs. Moreover, from 1 October 2021, the so-called customs control points between the two NGCAs are reported to have been abolished, potentially improving the freedom of movement for local residents.

  • In the meantime, only two of the five official crossing points allow people to cross the “contact line” (“Stanytsia Luhanska” in Luhanska oblast daily and “Novotroitske”/ “Olenivka” in Donetska oblast on Mondays and Fridays). In NGCA, to enter/leave NGCA, people also must be included in pre-approved lists of people who have been granted one of a limited number of humanitarian exemptions to cross.

  • Upon entering NGCA from GCA, a two-week self-quarantine at a place of residence remains mandatory in Luhanska oblast (NGCA), which can be cancelled with a negative PCR test taken in GCA not later than 72 hours before the crossing. In Donetska oblast (NGCA), people entering from GCA may pay for an express COVID-19 test which, if negative, allows them to self-quarantine at their place of residence instead of undergoing a two-week observation in a designated facility.

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Situation Report
Visual

Humanitarian Snapshot (September 2021)

Humanitarian Snapshot (September 2021)

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Situation Report
Visual

Crossing Points Snapshot (September 2021)

Crossing Points Snapshot (September 2021)

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Situation Report
Background
A map of eastern Ukraine divided by the 427-kilometre-long “contact line”.
A map of eastern Ukraine divided by the 427-kilometre-long “contact line”.

Humanitarian Context

Now in its seventh year, the conflict in eastern Ukraine continues to significantly impact the lives of millions of people living in the region, 3.4 million of whom require humanitarian assistance and protection services in 2021. Although the July 2020 ceasefire has brought marked reductions of hostilities and civilian casualties as well as the longest breathing space since the beginning of the conflict, the end is not yet in sight. As the humanitarian crisis aggravated by COVID-19 persists, civilians continue to bear the brunt of the conflict. Fear of shelling, violent clashes, and the threat of landmines and explosive remnants of war are the daily reality for millions of people living on both sides of the more than 420 kilometre-long “contact line” – equivalent to the length of the French-German border.

The shock of COVID-19 has created additional pressure on the struggling population. The pandemic and its ramifications have sent the weakened healthcare system, the floundering provision of social services and the declining regional economy to a breaking point. During the first months of the pandemic, all crossing points along the “contact line” were closed in an attempt to contain the virus, which seriously restricted people’s freedom of movement. This made it almost impossible for the population in need, particularly the elderly living in areas beyond Government control (NGCA), to obtain their main sources of income such as pensions and social benefits, or to maintain family ties. Such exclusion has not only increased people’s vulnerabilities but also added to their mental and psychological stress. Although two of the five crossing points partially reopened in June 2020, crossing procedures and restrictions remain complicated. Following the introduction of movement restrictions due to COVID-19 in late March 2020, the number of monthly crossings has been less than 10 per cent of the 1.2 million monthly crossings in 2019. Meanwhile, the volume of humanitarian aid delivered on UN-organised convoys to NGCA between March and December 2020 dropped by 16 per cent compared to the same period during 2019, with COVID-19 relief items constituting a large portion of the delivered assistance. Overall, the pandemic has made hundreds of thousands of conflict-weary people more vulnerable and more dependent on humanitarian aid.

Severe restrictions of movement have and will further increase the affected population’s vulnerabilities hitting NGCA residents particularly hard. It is to be expected that the “contact line” will remain substantially closed until summer 2021. At the same time, the opening of the two new crossing points in Luhanska oblast has been indefinitely delayed due to disagreements on the mode of operation. On a positive note, gradual progress on new organizations gaining access to operate in NGCA appears likely, especially to support the COVID-19 response.

With COVID-19 continuing to have a firm grip on the entire country, economic recovery in eastern Ukraine seems unlikely in 2021. Communities are expected to remain dependent on support to help them regain their self-sufficiency and recover from the effects of the prolonged crisis as well as the pandemic. Despite an increase in the Government’s engagement in humanitarian response in Government-controlled areas (GCA), national emergency response and preparedness capacities are likely to be overwhelmed by increasing and more severe needs. The restrictions on movement across the “contact line” will contribute to increased vulnerability, while the situation in NGCA is projected to be acute due to the limited capacity of hospitals and laboratories.

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