For the first time in five months, convoys from the United Nations refugee agency have reached non-Government controlled areas in Luhansk, in the easternmost part of Ukraine, carrying much- needed construction materials, kitchen sets and items for use in winter for thousands of people affected by the conflict.
According to a spokesperson for the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the humanitarian assistance is of prime importance as a tense and volatile security situation, compounded by restrictions on freedom of movement, have added to the hardships faced by the affected populations, particularly the elderly and persons with disabilities.
“Two separate convoys of 25-trucks each travelled with support from WFP (the UN World Food Programme) and local partners to deliver supplies that will enable UNHCR to expand its shelter programme in the region,” William Spindler told journalists today at a regular press briefing in Geneva.
According to the agency, the delivery of humanitarian assistance has decreased to non-Government controlled areas in the Luhansk region, where some 10,000 houses have been damaged because of the conflict, as many UN agencies have not been able to operate there since February 2015.
Since the onset of the conflict in 2014, more than two million people have been forced to flee their homes and seek sanctuary elsewhere in the country or abroad, and nearly 800,000, including the elderly and others in the most vulnerable categories, remain in need of assistance in or close to the conflict zone.
Highlighting the plight of two such people are 77-year-old former construction worker Petro and his wife, who have been living in a tiny basement room – the only part of their shelled home that protects them from snow, rain and wind – for more than two years.
Mr. Spindler said: “UNHCR remains extremely concerned about restrictions on freedom of movement that have aggravated hardships for people like Petro, who must also struggle to have access to benefits and entitlements – including pensions – on the government-controlled side.”
The agency's officials had met Petro and his wife during an assessment mission to Luhansk in May where they also found that many homes damaged by shell and mortar fire had their windows and roofs blown off.
Mr. Spindler further said that a major problem, particularly for elderly, persons with disabilities and other individuals with specific needs, is the limited number of checkpoints to cross the front line.
They have to wait for long hours, without shelter or adequate sanitation to cross check points to reach the Government-controlled areas as payment of social benefits and pensions to Internally Displaced Persons have been suspended until their residential addresses have been verified.
“UNHCR renews its call to all actors to guarantee unrestricted access to benefits and rights to all displaced persons, regardless of registration status or current place of residence,” stressed the agency spokesperson.
In the Luhansk region, only one pedestrian checkpoint in Stanitsa Luhanskaya remains open, with people queuing up to eight hours to cross.
Assisting the conflict-affected in Luhansk
This year, the UNHCR team in Luhansk, working with a local construction company and volunteers, and in coordination with local village administrators, plans to complete the rehabilitation of 1,500 damaged houses by October 2016, in addition to 1,500 households repaired in 2015.About 1,100 families in 15 villages located close to the dividing line have already received construction materials, but 40 per cent of the targeted population will not be able to complete shelter works without the agency's support.