Ukraine

Situation Report

Highlights

  • As of 19 March 2021, there are 1,519,926 people confirmed to have COVID-19 in Government-controlled areas of Ukraine, including 68,673 cases in eastern Ukraine.
  • As of 19 March 2021, there are reportedly 30,835 confirmed COVID-19 cases in areas beyond Government control.
  • COVID-19 pandemic in eastern Ukraine: a year in review.
  • COVID-19 aggravates the already protracted armed conflict.
  • COVID-19-related movement restrictions in eastern Ukraine continue to exacerbate people’s vulnerabilities.
An older woman dressed in layers sits on her bed in a partially damaged house, trying to stay warm in winter
An older woman dressed in layers sits on her bed in a partially damaged house, trying to stay warm in winter. 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

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Ukraine

Situation Report

Funding

$168M
Required
$21.6M
Received
13%
Progress
FTS

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Contacts

Ignacio Leon Garcia

Head of Office

Snezana Visnjic

Geneva Desk Officer

Lizaveta Zhuk

Public Information/Reporting Unit

Ukraine

Situation Report
Trends

COVID-19 update (Government-controlled areas)

Ministry of Health of Ukraine confirms 1,519,926 cases as of 19 March.

  • First case: 29 February 2020 .

  • Total cases: 1,519,926 (as of 19 March 2021).

  • Total deaths: 29,515.

  • Luhanska oblast (GCA): 16,067 confirmed cases (1,025 active cases and 499 deaths).

  • Donetska oblast (GCA): 52,606 confirmed cases (5,558 active cases and 1,161 deaths).

  • Borders/flights: On 13 March 2020, Ukraine closed 94 crossing points and suspended pedestrian crossing through the remaining 49 crossing points with neighbouring countries (i.e., Belarus, Hungary, Moldova, Poland, Romania, the Russian Federation, and Slovakia) to prevent the spread of the virus. On 29 May, Ukraine reopened all crossing points with EU countries and Moldova from its side. On 7 July, Ukraine reopened some crossing points with Belarus and the Russian Federation.

  • Ukraine also resumed international and domestic passenger flights from 15 June 2020 and international bus services (with countries allowing entry/exit) from 17 June 2020 after the suspension of international passenger transportation from 17 March 2020.

  • Currently, to cross the border into Ukraine, foreigners and stateless persons, with some exceptions, 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, travellers from “red zone” countries are required to self-quarantine for two weeks unless they provide a negative PCR test result.

  • Containment measures: In mid-March, the Government of Ukraine imposed quarantine restrictions to minimize the risk of transmission across the country, including in the conflict-affected area of eastern Ukraine. In May, these restrictions began to be eased based on the fulfilment of criteria adopted on both sides of the “contact line”. In GCA, an adaptive quarantine was introduced to counter the spread of the virus. Oblasts have been divided into the “red/orange/yellow/green” COVID-19 risk level regions based on two indicators (starting from 28 September): the COVID-19 hospital bed occupancy and COVID-19 incidence rate. The COVID-19 restrictive measures are implemented in cities and raions within oblasts in accordance with their risk levels. The adaptive quarantine currently in place has been extended until 28 February 2021.

  • Even though the official number of new COVID-19 cases has been decreasing for five weeks in a row, the Government of Ukraine announced another lockdown after the Orthodox Christmas celebration on 7 January until 25 January 2021 in an attempt “to reduce the burden on the healthcare facilities.” Only businesses and shops selling “essential” goods and services were open to the public as long as they followed COVID-19-related recommendations (e.g., pharmacies, grocery stores, gas stations, banks, post offices, healthcare providers, etc.). Starting from 25 January, Ukraine has reintroduced the quarantine restrictions that were applied before the introduction of the lockdown.

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Situation Report
Trends

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

Local sources reportedly confirm 30,835 COVID-19 cases as of 19 March.

  • Total cases: 30,835 (5,509 active cases and 2,455 deaths).

  • Luhanska oblast (NGCA): 3,443 cases (285 active cases and 302 deaths). First case: 31 March 2020.

  • Donetska oblast (NGCA): 27,392 cases (5,224 active cases and 2,153 deaths). First case: 29 March 2020.

  • Overview of containment measures: Luhanska and Donetska oblast (NGCA) adopted quarantine measures similar to those in Government-controlled areas of eastern Ukraine at the end of March 2020. As part of easing quarantine restrictions, both NGCA oblasts lifted restrictions on travelling to the Russian Federation and partially lifted restrictions on travelling between Donetska and Luhanska oblasts (NGCA). Yet, only people with permanent residency in Donetska/Luhanska oblasts (NGCA) are allowed to cross between the two NGCAs to travel to their respective place of permanent residence. In Donetska oblast (NGCA), to enter NGCA, people also must be included in the pre-approved lists.

  • In early October, due to a growing number of COVID-19 and pneumonia cases, Luhanska oblast (NGCA) introduced a two-week observation in a medical facility for people arriving from countries with an unfavourable epidemiological situation (e.g., China, Italy, Spain, etc.), not including those travelling from the Russian Federation or Donetska oblast (NGCA). Alternatively, people arriving from the Russian Federation may provide a negative result of a PCR test conducted in the Russian Federation within three days prior to arrival.

  • During the holiday season (from 31 December 2020 to 10 January 2021), both Donetska and Luhanska oblasts (NGCA) lifted the curfew and eased some restrictions on entertainment facilities’ operation (e.g., theatres, cinemas, museums, ice rinks, etc.). Moreover, both NGCA oblasts permitted festivities for children without parents’ participation and subject to the implementation of COVID-19 preventive measures.

  • To curb the spread of the virus, in early October, both Luhanska and Donetska oblasts (NGCA) introduced remote learning modalities in higher educational facilities. Later, mixed learning modalities (regular and online classes) were extended to primary and secondary schools. Donetska oblast (NGCA) also extended e-learning modalities to vocational and professional training schools. From 31 December 2020 to 8 January 2021, schools were closed for a winter break and resumed studies using mixed learning modalities from 10 January.

  • 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). To a large extent, crossings have been limited to those people who have been granted humanitarian exemptions negotiated by the humanitarian community. In addition, people have been allowed to cross based on the pre-approved lists issued in NGCA. For more information on the crossing measures enforced by relevant parties, please refer to the analysis on the crossing of the “contact line” below.

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Ukraine

Situation Report
Trends

COVID-19 pandemic in eastern Ukraine: a year in review

The first confirmed case of COVID-19 in Ukraine was identified on 29 February 2020, signifying the start of the pandemic in the country. The pandemic reached the Government-controlled areas (GCA) of conflict-torn eastern Ukraine on 18 March, when the first case was registered in Donetska oblast. On 29 March, the first COVID-19 case was reported in the non-Government-controlled areas (NGCA) of Donetska oblast. Luhanska oblast (NGCA) followed shortly after, with the first case reported to have been registered on 31 March.

Starting from May 2020, the COVID-19 incidence rate almost doubled every month, reaching 1 million cases by the end of the year. Despite a decline between January and February 2021, the COVID-19 pandemic downward trend in Ukraine reversed at the end of February, returning to the higher COVID-19 incidence rate of late December 2020. In NGCA, according to open sources, the COVID-19 growth rate is between 2 and 5 per cent per week or 8 to 20 per cent per month, which is similar to eastern Ukraine (GCA). At the same time, the fatality rates in NGCA are higher than in GCA: 8-9 per cent compared with some 2 per cent in GCA. Unfortunately, the lack of consistently reliable NGCA data makes it harder to understand the development and scale of the impact of COVID-19.

One year after the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Government of Ukraine started a countrywide vaccination campaign with the Covishield vaccine (AstraZeneca’s vaccine produced in India) on 24 February 2021. As of 19 March, 92,713 people have received the first dose, with Donetska oblast (GCA) having the highest vaccination rate (5,044). In addition to the purchase of 21 to 25 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines announced by the Government of Ukraine, some 8 million doses will be donated through the COVAX facility supported by the United Nations. According to the Ministry of Health’s schedule, some 12.7 million of the most vulnerable prioritized for vaccination – 30 per cent of the total population of Ukraine – are expected to be vaccinated, including with COVAX vaccines, by December 2021. In NGCA, the vaccination campaign is reported to have started on 1 February 2021 with the Sputnik V vaccine. Since there is no consistent and reliable data on the NGCA’s vaccination rate, the pace of the vaccination campaign remains unknown.

Below is a COVID-19 timeline, which summarizes the pandemic’s leading events and developments in Ukraine.

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Ukraine

Situation Report
Visual

COVID-19 timeline in Ukraine

COVID-19 timeline

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Ukraine

Situation Report
Coordination
A boy waits in a car while his father purchases hygiene products with a voucher he received from a humanitarian organization.
A boy waits in a car while his father purchases hygiene products with a voucher he received from a humanitarian organization. Photo: TGH/Oleksiі Filippov

COVID-19 and the Planned Humanitarian Response in 2021

On November 26, the humanitarian community in Ukraine launched the 2021 Humanitarian Response Plan in a bid to meet the needs of 1.9 million conflict-affected people in eastern Ukraine. The Plan seeks US$168 million to provide humanitarian aid and protection to those most vulnerable in 2021.

COVID-19 aggravates the already protracted armed conflict

Almost seven years of active fighting have had profound consequences on the lives of more than five million people in the conflict-affected Donetska and Luhanska oblasts of eastern Ukraine. Although the July 2020 ceasefire has resulted in a noticeable decrease in hostilities and civilian casualties, there is no end in sight. With ongoing hostilities and the COVID-19 pandemic exacerbating the already dire humanitarian situation in eastern Ukraine, 3.4 million people are projected to be in need of humanitarian assistance in 2021. Since 2017, the number of people in need of humanitarian assistance has remained at about the same level. However, in 2020, their needs have become more severe due to COVID-19.

The pandemic has put further stresses on an already weakened healthcare system, insufficient social services provision and the declining regional economy. All crossing points in eastern Ukraine were also closed to contain the spread of the virus from March to June 2020 and remain only partially operational to date. This has seriously restricted people’s freedom of movement and made it almost impossible for the population in need, particularly the elderly living in non-Government-controlled areas (NGCA), to access their entitlements or maintain family ties. It is expected that the situation is going to be similar in 2021, and the ‘contact line’ will remain substantially closed until at least summer 2021.

Humanitarian Response in 2021

The 2021 Humanitarian Response Plan – a strictly prioritized and comprehensive plan of action – lays out how humanitarian partners aim to provide humanitarian aid and protection services to 1.9 million of the most vulnerable people in the conflict-affected areas of eastern Ukraine. Almost 800,000 of the people targeted live in NGCA, while 1.1 million are targeted in Government-controlled areas (GCA), including 189,000 internally displaced people in the GCA of Donetska, Luhanska and other oblasts. Among the most vulnerable are the elderly, who represent 40 per cent of the people targeted with assistance, as well as children from vulnerable families – 15 per cent of those targeted. The response efforts also aim to meet the critical needs of 240,000 people with disabilities.

The humanitarian community in Ukraine will continue to focus on saving lives, ensuring people’s access to basic services and strengthening the protection of those affected by the conflict and COVID-19. Recognizing the strong capacity of the Government of Ukraine at all levels, humanitarian actors will also continue to gradually transfer service delivery to national actors to ensure the sustainability of services that address humanitarian needs in conflict-affected areas. The Plan encompasses different sectors, including education, food security, health, protection, shelter, and water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH). Considering the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, next year’s response will put an even bigger focus on health and WASH interventions.

Support the Humanitarian Response

At the end of November, the Humanitarian Coordinator in Ukraine, Ms. Osnat Lubrani, appealed to donors to support the 2021 Humanitarian Response Plan. In her appeal, she noted that the Plan would complement the Government's efforts, prioritizing the most critical humanitarian requirements for meeting the basic needs and preventing further deterioration of the situation. “The COVID-19 pandemic has turned the tables for many, especially for those already made vulnerable by the conflict who can barely make ends meet. And it is not abating any time soon — even with vaccines on the horizon,” Ms. Lubrani said. “It is a matter of basic human solidarity, and it is our obligation to come to the aid of those who need assistance. We encourage everyone to join us. Only with your support can we make sure that everyone is safe and no one is left behind,” Ms. Lubrani concluded.

You can also support the response by donating here: http://bit.ly/DonateforUkraine.

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Ukraine

Situation Report
Analysis
People are waiting in the bitter cold to cross the ‘contact line’ in eastern Ukraine.
People are waiting in the bitter cold to cross the ‘contact line’ in eastern Ukraine (prior to the COVID-19 pandemic). Photo: OCHA/ Yevhen Maloletka

COVID-19-related movement restrictions in eastern Ukraine continue to exacerbate people’s vulnerabilities

Almost ten months after the 427-kilometer “contact line” in eastern Ukraine was substantially closed in an attempt to contain the spread of COVID-19, conflict-affected populations continue to pay the heaviest toll. Most people are still unable to reach the other side to visit their families and friends, access health care and other basic services. Vulnerable pensioners residing in the areas beyond Government control (NGCA) and registered as internally displaced persons in Government-controlled areas (GCA) have been unable to retrieve their pensions in GCA since March 2020, which is the main source of income for many.

Ten months of movement restrictions

On 21 March 2020, the “contact line” was sealed off to help curb the spread of the virus in the conflict-affected areas. Before the closure, people living in both GCA and NGCA had crossed the “contact line” an average of 1.2 million times each month to reach social and administrative services, visit banks, access health care and education, withdraw pensions and to maintain family ties. The number of individual crossings after 21 March 2020 until the end of the year represented less than 3 per cent of the level of crossings recorded in 2019 during the same period. The lowest number of crossings was recorded in April and May: less than 300 per month.

The re-opening of the “contact line” started on 10 June 2020 and coincided with the introduction of additional requirements for civilians willing to cross. The lack of consistency across requirements introduced by different sides coupled with the absence of clear and publicly available information led to people being stranded in the “grey zone” – the area between two sides of the same crossing point – or not being able to cross at all. While some of the requirements have been gradually eased, which resulted in an increase of monthly crossings from hundreds to thousands, the majority of crossings are only permitted in accordance with humanitarian exemptions* and restrictions related to the place of residence.

Attempts to improve the freedom of movement and access to services

Following the introduction of the ceasefire on 27 July, the Trilateral Contact Group** reached agreement on the opening of two new crossing points in Luhanska oblast. The opening of “Shchastia” and “Zolote” had been scheduled for 10 November but was indefinitely postponed due to ongoing disagreement on the mode of their operation (vehicular and pedestrian or just pedestrian). At the moment, only two of the five official entry/exit crossing points (EECPs) have been partially re-opened in eastern Ukraine: “Stanytsia Luhanska” in Luhanska oblast (daily) and “Novotroitske” in Donetska oblast (on Mondays and Fridays).

On a positive note, two service centres providing a wide range of administrative, banking, medical, legal and other services have been opened at “Shchastia” and “Novotroitske” EECPs. These centres are primarily designed to improve access to critical services, including administrative, banking and medical, for people crossing the “contact line” and those residing nearby. Similar service centres are expected to open at all EECPs in 2021.

Effects of the “contact line” closure on people

The drastic drop in the number of crossings of the “contact line” suggests that hundreds of thousands of conflict-affected people have had little opportunity to reach the other side since the introduction of movement restrictions. The restrictions on movement across the “contact line” has primarily impacted residents of NGCA, as prior to the pandemic, they represented 90 per cent of the people crossing to access pensions, social, medical and financial services and to address documentation issues in GCA.

The elderly have been among the hardest hit by the restrictions. According to reports, over UAH 2 billion has accumulated in the accounts of Oschadbank*** as COVID-19 travel restrictions prevented hundreds of thousands of NGCA pensioners from collecting their banking cards, which are needed to withdraw pensions and other social benefits. As of October 2020, more than 270,000 banking cards had not been picked up, and the validity of previously issued cards was once again extended until 1 March 2021. After ten months without accessing GCA pensions, which, together with social allowances received in NGCA, constitute the main sources of income for many, pensioners have been forced to find alternative ways to survive. They have been relying on only social benefits paid in NGCA, and through negative coping strategies such as depleting their savings, selling household goods, borrowing money or accessing their pensions in GCA through costly and legally challenging routes.

The “contact line” closure has also hampered access to health care for many residents of eastern Ukraine. According to the latest analysis of “contact line” crossings , over 10 per cent of the requests received by the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) Special Monitoring Mission (SMM) from civilians willing to cross have listed medical issues, including therapy and access to medication for acute or chronic illnesses, as the primary reason for crossing. Among them were oncological patients that couldn’t receive appropriate treatment in NGCA. [1]

People have also informed OSCE SMM that they couldn’t cross the “contact line” to obtain civil documentation, access judicial services provided by courts and notaries, take part in University admission exams, and to return to their place of residence, especially at the early stages of quarantine.

Movement restrictions in 2021

Severe restrictions of movement are expected to further negatively affect people’s vulnerabilities hitting NGCA residents particularly hard. It is anticipated that the “contact line” will remain substantially closed at least until summer 2021. Moreover, considering that COVID-19 will not retreat any time soon, 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 GCA, national emergency response and preparedness capacities are likely to be overwhelmed by growing COVID-19-related 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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* The list of exemptions negotiated by the humanitarian community includes the necessity to respect the principle of family unity, in the case of death, or severe disease of a close relative as well as severe or chronic illness, which requires urgent medical intervention.

**The Trilateral Contact Group, which includes representatives from Ukraine, the Russian Federation, and the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, was established as a forum to reach a peaceful resolution to the conflict in eastern Ukraine.

***Oschadbank is the state bank administrating pension payments for pensioners registered as IDPs.

[1] OSCE SMM, Thematic Report. Checkpoints along the Contact Line: Challenges Civilians Face When Crossing. 1 November 2019 – 15 November 2020.

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Situation Report
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Humanitarian Snapshot (February 2021)

Humanitarian Snapshot (February 2021)

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Situation Report
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Crossing Points Snapshot (February 2021)

Crossing Points Snapshot (February 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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