Speeches

Donbass Life and Barriers

22.11.2016

The research carried out by KIIS and commissioned by the Rinat Akhmetov Humanitarian Center helps us all see beyond the contact line to non-government controlled territory (NGCA) and better understand the challenges, threats and conditions that Ukrainian citizens face on both sides of the contact line face. Its insights and ability to compare issues over time are important in understanding the real situation and humanitarian needs and giving credible evidence to back up the need for humanitarian assistance

The study showed that the increase in conflict since the late summer and has led to a loss of confidence with  over a quarter  (26%) now stating that they could not handle the stress of living  conflict (up from 16% in May). 

The survey again shows clearly that the major needs for Donetsk citizens are medications and food with 29% and 26% respectively of people surveyed stating that they have a lack of these items.

One of simplest ways of improving life for Ukrainian citizens and improving the humanitarian situation would be an easing of the movement of citizens across the contact line, reducing the control checks, and speeding up the process in a bid to avoid the long waiting times being experienced in tough seasonal conditions – with temperatures over often over 35C in the summer and -20C or lower in the winter

A second benefit relates to food security where allowing free movement of commercial products, particularly basic food items, would reduce prices in the non-government controlled territory giving people access to a wider choice of better quality products at lower prices helping their very limited incomes to go further.  

Given the importance of access to medication, an easing of the commercial blockade along the contact line would also lead to the increase in availability for citizens who have chronic illness and often have to reduce or forgo taking medication in order to pay for essential items such as basic foodstuffs or a new warm winter coat. 

Reducing prices is important as most citizens are on very low incomes with 60% of households in NGCA relying on meagre pensions. While in the GCA 37% of IDPs and 28% of non-displaced citizens have had zero income over the past month.

So an easing of the blockade on the contact line, particularly for basic foodstuffs and medicines, would reduce the need for humanitarian aid and directly improve the lives of citizens on both sides of the contact line. While improving the speed and flow of citizens through checkpoints would reduce the risk of civilians being caught in shelling and crossfire and would cut the waiting time a checkpoints. The long queue often extending beyond 20 hrs are the biggest concern for citizens (80%) along with the difficulty conditions at the checkpoints with few facilities, poor sanitary conditions and little or no protection against the extremes of climate experienced in Donbass. 

Most citizens just wish to cross the contact line to visit relatives (74% state this as the prime reason). With supplies low and prices high in the NGCA, 10% give crossing to buy goods is their primary reason, while other reason given are to receive essential pensions and social payments, check on homes and to execute important documents (7% for each of these). These are basic human needs for citizens which they are currently prevented from doing in anything approaching an acceptable manner.

While crossing conditions remain tough, the step from the new Ministry of Temporarily Occupied Territories and IDPs led by Mr Chernyish and his colleagues has already made a positive impact by increasing the amount to 50KG (and value up to 10,000UAH) that citizens can take over the contact line for personal consumption and this is to be warmly welcomed.  But the bigger question must be why so little has been done date to reduce the humanitarian impact of the contact line controls on ordinary citizens and families in a way that protects Ukraine’s territorial security,  but minimises the humanitarian impact on citizens and the conflict risk and hardships they face when crossing the line.

As we come close to the winter holiday season of New Year and Christmas, it would be good to think that restrictions on communication and movement of people and essential products over the contact line could be streamlined to help heal the nation and bring it closer together.

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