Situation Report
Zhovanka village, Donetska oblast, GCA, Ukraine
Ivan, 66 years old, shows the heavily damaged house he had built for his children. Photo: OCHA/Yevhen Maloletka

Civilians and critical infrastructure continue to come under attack in eastern Ukraine

While last year saw the lowest level of civilian casualties and attacks on civilian infrastructure for the entire conflict period, the recent return to active fighting might signify that the positive trend observed following the July 2020 ceasefire might reverse course soon. While the humanitarian community continues to monitor the situation closely and prepare for potential escalation, the analysis below gives an overview of how the longest-lived ceasefire to date has improved the security situation in eastern Ukraine in 2020.

Attacks on people

Last year saw the lowest level of civilian casualties since the beginning of the conflict and an 11 per cent decrease compared with 2019 [1]: 149 civilians killed and injured. Almost three-fourth of all civilian casualties (107) were recorded from 1 January to 31 July 2020 [2] – before the entry into force of the comprehensive ceasefire brokered by the Trilateral Contact Group on 27 July.

The July ceasefire has positively reflected on the security situation in eastern Ukraine for the remainder of 2020 and resulted in a dramatic drop in civilian casualties caused by active fighting and attacks on civilian infrastructure. From 1 August 2020 until 1 February 2021, only three civilians were injured due to active hostilities compared with 67 civilian casualties during the previous six months before the July ceasefire.

Despite a decrease in the total number of casualties on a year-over-year basis, the number of people killed by the conflict-related hostilities remained almost at the same level: 26 civilians were killed in 2020 compared with 27 a year earlier; one-third of them (eight) — after 31 July 2020. Shelling, small arms and light weapons (SALW) fire remained the leading cause of civilian casualties, injuring 61 and killing seven people. At the same time, the number of people who received injuries due to shelling and SALW reduced by 37 per cent compared with 97 people injured in 2019.

Moreover, the number of victims of mines and explosive remnants of war (ERW) increased, accounting for 51 per cent of all casualties: in 2020, 59 people were injured and 17 killed in mine-related incidents and due to ERW handling compared with 42 injured and 17 killed in 2019. The increase in mine-related civilian casualties, coupled with reports of planting of new mines, is particularly worrying as already around 2 million people are exposed to the threat of landmines and ERW in eastern Ukraine.

Attacks on civilian infrastructure

Another positive ceasefire-related development is the decrease in the number of attacks on civilian infrastructure. From 1 February to 31 July 2020, 72 security incidents, 40 of which resulted in some damage, were recorded, compared with four incidents between 1 August 2020 to 31 January 2021, none of which caused damage.

In 2020, 61 incidents affected water supply and wastewater infrastructure [3] on both sides of the “contact line”, which is a 30 per cent decrease compared with 2019. From January to June 2020, 48 incidents were reported, which is slightly lower than during the same period of 2019 (58 incidents). In line with the overall improvement of the security situation following the ceasefire, 13 incidents were recorded during the second half of the year, only four of which took place after 31 July 2020.

While the overall decrease in the number of security incidents affecting water facilities is a positive development, the number of full days of water supply disruption per person in 2020 was the highest since 2017 (15 million): 9 million per-person days of water supply interruption compared with 6.9 million in 2019.

Looking forward

The July 2020 ceasefire has brought a long-awaited breathing space to conflict-affected people in eastern Ukraine. The growing number of ceasefire violations in the first three months of 2021 raises concerns over the possible return to the pre-ceasefire level of hostilities or, in the worst case, potential escalation. Any deterioration of security conditions in the east will severely aggravate the humanitarian situation for 3.4 million in need of assistance, whose resilience is already strained by seven years of armed conflict and the COVID-19 pandemic.

It is evident that humanitarian assistance alone can’t help eastern Ukraine recover. The de-escalation and adherence to a comprehensive ceasefire are essential to bringing back hope to people that a political solution can be reached. However, while the armed conflict continues, the relief provided by humanitarian actors remains essential for supporting people in urgent need.

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[1] OHCHR, Report on the human rights situation in Ukraine, 1 August 2020 – 31 January 2021.

[2] OHCHR, Report on the human rights situation in Ukraine, 16 February – 31 July 2020.

[3] WASH Cluster Alert Bulletin, 1 January – 31 December 2020, Issue 15.