UNHCR calls for unimpeded access in eastern Ukraine; concerns over government resolutions worsening plight of displaced

This is a summary of what was said by UNHCR spokesperson Karin de Gruijl to whom quoted text may be attributed at the press briefing, on 23 January 2015, at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

UNHCR is concerned that Ukrainian government regulations are undermining humanitarian agencies ability to help people in need. New security clearance procedures have been put in place and specific documentation is now required to pass through checkpoints in the east of Ukraine. These new procedures apply to Ukrainian nationals, the United Nations, NGOs, national and some other international humanitarian organisations.

These restrictions on movements within Donetsk and Luhansk regions in the east of the country further complicates an already difficult situation for those forcibly displaced and made worse by the intensified fighting we have seen in recent days These practices restrict access to non-government controlled areas and limit the delivery of needed humanitarian assistance into the conflict zones. The Ukrainian government has reportedly adopted this resolution which entered into force yesterday (Thursday 22 January) limiting all movements in and out of the conflict zones. UNHCR has experienced obstructions on a number of occasions prior to this resolution coming into force when attempting to deliver aid in the east.

In November the government adopted two resolutions: one cutting funding of any government institution (resolution 595) and the second relating to services in "temporarily uncontrolled territory" (resolution 637). These regulations are creating additional displacement - forcing some vulnerable people to leave their homes and register as an IDP - in order to receive their pensions and other social benefit payments. It also deepens the humanitarian suffering in non-government controlled areas by cutting people off from their pensions, life-saving services and isolates people living in institutions. UNHCR is concerned that the plight of people living in non-government controlled areas is worsening by the day and the conditions are being created for a major humanitarian crisis.

UNHCR established a presence in Donetsk in late December as a part of a wider United Nations initiative to meet the acute needs in the region following security assurances received from the de facto authorities. Since the third week of December UNHCR has managed to provide some aid in Donetsk. It includes blankets, jackets and reinforced plastic sheets for fast temporary repairs of damaged windows and roofs. UNHCR has placed a small number of staff in Donetsk to provide further assistance ahead of February, one of the coldest months in Ukraine. UNHCR has prepositioned a further 3,500 blankets, 3,500 bed linen kits and 7,000 towels in Donetsk. So far this year we have managed to deliver to 2,800 vulnerable IDPs residing in five Donetsk collective centres. Similar aid has been provided to the Donetsk city hospital that serves the most of the affected population.

According to the Ukrainian government, the number of people internally displaced currently ranges from 659,000 (State Emergency Services) to 921,000 (Ministry of Social Policy). UNHCR has reports that many displaced people have registered with the Ministry of Social Policy as IDPs for the sole purpose of transferring their pension and move back to their usual homes once their pensions and social benefits have been collected. UNHCR is working with authorities in Ukraine to improve IDP data collection system, including more accurate numbers of people displaced by the conflict.

UNHCR calls on all parties to the conflict to respect international humanitarian law, to facilitate the movement of civilians affected by the conflict, ensure the unhindered movement of humanitarian aid organisations and to guarantee the safety of aid workers.

Some 245,510 Ukrainian citizens have applied for international protection in the Russian Federation as reported by the authorities, while some 244,326 Ukrainians applied for other forms of stay in Russia (applications for citizenship, temporary/permanent residence permit, compatriots' resettlement programme), though many are using the visa free agreement.

Number of Ukrainians seeking safety to other neighbouring countries has also increased, but the majority pursue forms of legal stay other than asylum (since January 2014): Belarus (663 seek asylum; 59,637 pursue other forms of stay), Poland (2,253 asylum; 28,852 other), Moldova (140 asylum; 5,344 other).

In EU some 11,187 Ukrainians have applied for international protection, with most applications lodged in Poland (2,253), Germany (2,205) and Sweden (1,255).

For more information on this topic, please contact:

  • In Kiev, Nina Sorokopud on mobile +380 50 310 1767
  • In Geneva, Babar Baloch on mobile +41 79 557 9106