Wildfires in Luhanska oblast leave more than 500 families without homes ahead of winter
In late September, large-scale wildfires erupted in Government-controlled areas (GCA) of Luhanska oblast. They raged for over a week, affecting over 20,000 hectares of land and over 32 settlements along the ‘contact line’. According to the State Emergency Service of Ukraine, at least nine people were killed, and 19 were injured. Reportedly, the fires were also observed in the non-Government-controlled areas (NGCA) of Luhanska oblast, where at least two people were wounded.
The wildfires started on 30 September in five locations in Luhanska oblast (GCA). High winds contributed to the fires spreading rapidly to nearby forested areas and settlements. The rapid spread of wildfires coupled with heavy contamination of the territory with mines, explosives, and remnants of intense hostilities in the area between 2014 and 2016 complicated firefighting activities. Two firefighters and a forest warden were injured when a firefighting vehicle drove over an explosive device.
Damages to civilian property and compensations
It was reported that about 500 houses, 1,800 outbuildings, and 60 vehicles were damaged or destroyed in the fires. Wildfires severely affected critical civilian infrastructure in several settlements, leaving them without power supply or water. In addition, over 630 head of livestock and 450 head of poultry also died in the fires.
In an attempt to cover people’s losses, the Government of Ukraine announced a compensation mechanism* for the fire survivors. For many civilians, receiving such compensations will be problematic as they do not have documents proving ownership of their house, either because they did not have documents or they lost them in the fires. It is expected that legal assistance to fire survivors will be one of the most in-demand humanitarian services in the coming months to enable them to receive compensation.
Many residents in rural areas rely heavily on farming and livestock to make ends meet. For many of those impacted by the wildfires, the destruction of stocks and loss of livestock will make the upcoming winter hard to get through without support from humanitarian actors.
Impact on the operations of the crossing point in Luhanska oblast
The only operational entry-exit crossing point (EECP) in Luhanska oblast was forced to close on 1 October for four days when the fire reached the EECP. The fires destroyed the first-aid point, heating shelter, and waiting area on the Government-controlled side of the crossing point. All civilians waiting to cross the ‘contact line’ were safely evacuated, and the EECP’s equipment was relocated in time. At the moment, the EECP’s damaged infrastructure is being rebuilt.
Humanitarian actors’ response
OCHA, through its sub-office in Sievierodonetsk (Luhanska oblast, GCA), helped facilitate the coordination of response activities among UN agencies, international and national non-governmental organizations (NGOs), the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), the Ukrainian Red Cross Society, and local authorities. At the onset of the emergency, partners provided the evacuated and relocated people with drinking water, food, and basic non-food items such as blankets, pillows, clothes, shoes, and hygiene kits. Some NGOs provided medical assistance and psychosocial support for the people evacuated from the affected areas and those who lost their family members.
While the assessments of needs and damage are ongoing, the partners are considering modalities to address mid-term needs and find more sustainable solutions. The most acute needs include medicines for people injured in the fires, power generators, tools for cleaning the debris and repair, and construction materials. Some partners have already appealed to donors for additional funding and are planning to provide multipurpose cash grants, legal aid, social transportation, and psychosocial support to the affected population. OCHA continues coordinating the response and keeps the log of planned activities to avoid overlapping of partners’ and Government’s response efforts.
Need for housing solutions ahead of winter
It could take up to two months for all damage to be assessed and compensations to be paid. In the meantime, temperatures are expected to drop to zero degrees Celsius by early November. The provision of temporary shelter or more sustainable housing solutions for persons who lost their homes or whose houses were damaged needs to be prioritized by the local authorities and the national Government. It is expected that humanitarian actors’ support will also be critical to help people get through the upcoming seventh winter surrounded by hostilities.
You too can help by making a contribution to support conflict-weary men, women, and children during winter months with coal, solid fuel, thermal blankets, and other winter essentials: https://crisisrelief.un.org/ukraine
* The Government of Ukraine approved several types of compensation to the fire survivors in Luhanska oblast. The following compensation amounts are envisaged: (i) families who lost relatives are going to receive some UAH200,000 (some $7,050); (ii) persons who sustained severe injuries will receive UAH50,000 (US$1,765), those who sustained moderate injuries will get UAH30,000 ($1,060), and those with minor injuries — UAH20,000 ($705). Families whose houses were destroyed in the fire will receive UAH300,000 ($10,600) per household, and those whose property was damaged will receive UAH50,000 (US$1,765) for repair.
The local authorities are assessing and documenting the damage to help the affected households apply for compensation. The Luhansk Oblast Administration is expected to submit a preliminary damage assessment to the national Government by mid-October. In the meantime, the regional authorities plan to allocate some funds from local budgets to address the housing needs of the most vulnerable (e.g., single-headed households, people with disabilities, etc.).