Eastern Ukraine’s Accelerating Humanitarian Crisis

By Mary Jane Maxwell

“There’s no peace and shelling takes place daily.” That’s the current situation in Russian-controlled territory in eastern Ukraine, says an archbishop of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church.

Despite countless truces, Archbishop Serhiy of Donetsk and Mariupol says the Russian-led forces have stepped up their military assault in eastern Ukraine’s Donbas region.

Serhiy is one of the 1.5 million internally displaced people who were forced to leave Russian-controlled territory. Serhiy relocated to Mariupol, a city 115 kilometers south of Donetsk, yet he continues, from afar, to operate House of Mercy, the hospice his church has run for 19 years in the Donetsk region.

Over the last four months, Serhiy said, circumstances have worsened in his region, with more people seeking his church’s help with housing, food and employment.

“People now lack sufficient drinking water,” Serhiy said via email. “We transport food, medicines, diapers, personal hygiene products three times a week.” Compounding the problem are limitations on products and medicines per person. “Every month, supplies and medicines are becoming more expensive — especially insulin.”

Millions of Ukrainians depend on humanitarian aid for day-to-day survival. Russian aggression in eastern Ukraine has led to the destruction of thousands of homes, schools and hospitals since the conflict began in 2014. Services such as water and electricity are unreliable. Landmines and unexploded ordnance also threaten Ukrainian lives.

Serhiy says transportation has become increasingly costly and difficult with numerous checkpoints and long lines.

The U.S., along with international and nongovernmental organizations, continues to offer life-sustaining assistance to those affected in Ukraine.

Regional churches, including Serhiy’s church, have provided humanitarian aid since the conflict began. Clergy and trained volunteers find places in Russian-controlled territory to serve a hot lunch, provide essential supplies and offer psychological assistance.

But Serhiy stresses the need for humanitarian aid to arrive through established international organizations like the Red Cross, which he says will distribute it directly to those in need. “Because if the help falls into the hands of the militants,” Serhiy noted, “it will not reach the needy.”

He now fears that help for Ukrainians is waning, even as the humanitarian crisis is accelerating. “Due to the protracted military conflict, many volunteers, sponsors, donors are tired. And now there is very little help,” he said.

Serhiy said he is grateful “to everyone in the world who does not remain indifferent to the problems of our people, who helps them survive these difficult times.”

“And especially to the United States of America, whose government and people support Ukraine,” Serhiy said.

The United States continues to call on Russia to end its aggression in Ukraine and honor its commitments under the Minsk agreements. “The Kremlin controls the violence in eastern Ukraine and could bring this violence to an end tomorrow if the Kremlin wanted to do that,” State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said in May.

Crimea Declaration

Five hundred kilometers away from Donetsk, on Ukraine’s Crimea peninsula, Russia invaded and attempted to annex territory in 2014 in clear violation of international law, causing worldwide condemnation. The United States, along with its allies, partners and the international community, have steadfastly renounced this act of aggression and pledge to stand by Ukraine until Russia returns its territory.

“As democratic states seek to build a free, just, and prosperous world, we must uphold our commitment to the international principle of sovereign equality and respect the territorial integrity of other states,” said U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in the Crimea Declaration, a renewed call on July 25 for Russia to end its occupation of Crimea.

“A bedrock international principle shared by democratic states: that no country can change the borders of another by force,” Pompeo said.

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