Wrapping up a three-day visit to Ukraine, the United Nations humanitarian chief is calling for sustained and unimpeded access to the vulnerable communities caught in the middle of the crisis and who urgently need humanitarian aid.
“I came to Ukraine to see for myself the consequences of the conflict in eastern areas for the civilians living there and those who have been forced to flee,” the UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, Stephen O’Brien, said in a press release issued in Kyiv yesterday at the end of his visit.
“As the winter fast approaches, our top priority must be to quickly scale up the coordination and delivery of aid for the most vulnerable people, especially the elderly and ill,” he added.
According to the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), which Mr. O’Brien heads, around four million people in eastern Ukraine need assistance and protection. Families do not have access to basic supplies and services, including food, clean water supply, and heating fuel.
“Many people, especially those who have not been able to flee to safe areas because they are elderly or sick, are living in homes which, as I saw when I met an elderly woman in Tsentralniye, have been severely damaged in the fighting. People are not able to move freely to seek medical assistance or make a living,” Mr. O’Brien warned.
During his visit, Mr. O’Brien, who is also the Emergency Relief Coordinator, met the Prime Minister of Ukraine, Arseniy Yatsenyuk, and senior officials in the Presidential Administration in Kyiv. It was agreed that strengthening coordination and partnership to ensure that more aid can be delivered to all Ukrainians in dire need was of paramount importance.
In the eastern areas, Mr. O’Brien met representatives of the de facto authorities in Luhansk and Donetsk and discussed ways of improving humanitarian access to people in the non-Government controlled areas.
“As I met people and heard their stories, I was struck by the urgent need for greater protection and safety, as well as for basic supplies. That is why it has been important to speak to representatives of all conflict parties, who are responsible under international law for protecting and aiding civilians,” Mr. O’Brien said on his return to Kyiv.
People are reportedly getting assistance from local organizations, from other countries and from the United Nations and humanitarian partners. However, OCHA noted that it is clear that no single aid source or route will be enough to meet people’s needs this winter.
“As a result of my meetings and the welcome assurances I received, I have confidence that I can count upon all the parties to facilitate immediate, unimpeded and sustained aid delivery. We and our partners remain ready to scale up the delivery of vital aid and are activating our plan to commence the transport of some 500 metric tonnes of blankets, food, medical supplies and shelter repair materials for people in the Luhansk area in the next few days,” announced Mr. O’Brien.
“As impartial, neutral and independent humanitarians, we will continue to coordinate with all parties so that we can get to the people who need help, urge all sides to allow free movement of civilians and aid workers, and to mobilize further funds to enable this critical work,” he added.
The Under-Secretary-General also noted that the UN “must do more to tell the world of the human suffering in the conflict areas.” He said international attention has been largely focused on the military and political situation in Ukraine, whereas “above all, peace and stability are what the Ukrainian people need.”