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The Black Sea port city of Odesa has come under attack from missile strikes.

Two years of the Ukraine conflict: ‘This war should never have started’

© UNOCHA/Alina Basiuk
The Black Sea port city of Odesa has come under attack from missile strikes.

Two years of the Ukraine conflict: ‘This war should never have started’

Humanitarian Aid

Peace in Ukraine still seems to be a distant prospect, but thousands of UN staff continue to support the population, even in frontline towns coming under daily attack.

Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine began on 24 February 2022. Over four million people have been displaced, and six million have left the country. Soldiers have been mobilized, infrastructure, health clinics, and schools have been damaged.

Two years on, Denise Brown, the UN Resident Coordinator in the country, sat down for a special interview with UN News and told us that humanitarian support will continue, despite the ongoing threats to staff and civilians.

Denise Brown: I think it's important to emphasize that attacks take place almost every single day in certain parts of the country.  There is an immediate reaction of fear, not knowing what's coming at you, hearing the explosions, and thinking, will the defence system shoot them down, or will the drones and missiles get through?

And then there's the immediate response from the government and humanitarian side, working closely together, deploying psychosocial support, repairing windows, doors and roofs, and often providing food or cash.

But what also comes with those attacks, particularly for the population, is loss; loss of life, loss of your home, loss of your sense of security. And often, when schools or health clinics are hit, then there's also loss of access to essential services, loss of access to a doctor, a clinic, a school, or electricity.  Loss is the big sentiment here.

It's with great sorrow that I say we've become pretty good at this, because we have to do it almost every single day.

UN News: How do you coordinate these relief efforts throughout the country? 

Denise Brown:  I think we have real added value in the regions. There's an immediate coordination through OCHA – the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs – and we have people deployed in the regions along the oblasts [Ukrainian administrative regions], who work alongside the authorities.

We have a network of over 500 partners, local actors who are the closest to where these things happen and they deploy immediately and we support them. It's a good network, the coordination works well.

UN News: Are you still able to travel throughout the country?

We have more than 3,000 UN staff, many deployed in Kharkiv, Dnipro, Mykolaiv, Odessa, Zaporizhzhia, and Donetsk; places where there are daily hits. That means that it’s even more important that I, and senior UN colleagues, go out as much as possible. I can't expect UNstaff, national or international, to sit in Kharkiv and live through daily missile strikes in the city, and not go there and be with them.

So that's what I'm doing. But it also gives me the opportunityto talk to the regional and local authorities and go on convoys to the frontline. 

So, the authorities know and understand that the most senior person from the UN in Ukraine is prepared to be with them. And that has become, I think, one of the most powerful messages of this response. 

It's not just about our delivering supplies. We, and the NGOs, are providing support. I think it's an incredibly important signal from our side that, no matter how difficult it gets, we will make every effort to be with them.

Denise Brown (centre), UN Resident Coordinator in Ukraine, with colleagues (file)
UN Ukraine/ Saviano Abreu
Denise Brown (centre), UN Resident Coordinator in Ukraine, with colleagues (file)

UN News: Did you ever think that the war would go on this long?

Denise Brown: I'm surprised that it's gone on this long because this is not the answer. It was never the answer. And the Ukrainians are living through such violence and loss and grief. All I can say is it needs to be over.

The economy is in shatters, civilian infrastructure seems to be targeted regularly, lives are being lost, families broken up, and gender-based violence is going up. All of these things have an impact on the people of Ukraine. 

There needs to be peace here. These people need to get back to their lives. The war should never have started.

UN News: But there doesn't seem to be an end in sight. Are you expecting this war to several more years?

Denise Brown: I base [things] myself on the data. These people are in huge need. And even if the war were over tomorrow, the needs would remain enormous in this country.

It will take years and years to rebuild this country and for the country to deal with the trauma. So, my projection is that whatever happens with this horrendous and illegal war, the people of Ukraine will continue to need support, both on the humanitarian side and on the recovery side, for the foreseeable future.