Ukraine: Winter of 2015 seeing increased displacement, deteriorating humanitarian situation

This is a summary of what was said by UNHCR spokesperson Adrian Edwards to whom quoted text may be attributed at the press briefing, on 6 February 2015, at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

Fierce fighting in the central Donetsk region of eastern Ukraine is creating new displacement, pushing the number of registered internally displaced people (IDPs) in Ukraine close to one million. Ukraine's Ministry of Social Policy now puts the total number of registered IDPs countrywide at 980,000 - a figure that is expected to rise further as more newly-displaced people are still being registered. In addition, some 600,000 Ukrainians have sought asylum or other forms of legal stay in neighbouring countries, particularly the Russian Federation, but also Belarus, Moldova, Poland, Hungary and Romania, since February 2014.

UNHCR teams report that heavy fighting in the Donetsk region in the country's east over the last two weeks has resulted in massive destruction of buildings and infrastructure and in the collapse of basic services. Local authorities have begun to evacuate people from conflict areas, but many are still trapped by the fighting, including in basements and buildings under constant bombardment.The evacuations are being organised by the government helped by local volunteers.

So far, more than 2,800 civilians, including about 700 children and 60 people with disabilities, have been evacuated from the towns of Debaltseve, Avdiivka and Svitlodar, which have seen fierce combat. Several incidents of shelling of buses carrying the evacuees have been reported. Local authorities also confirmed that evacuation transportation could not reach Avdiivka on Tuesday because of the fighting.

The Ukrainian Government is concerned that areas close to the frontline, which are also under heavy shelling, will not be able to accommodate the new arrivals. Therefore, people will have to be moved further away to central, southern and western parts of the country.

Evacuees are being taken to government-controlled towns to the north of Donetsk such as Slovyansk, Sviatohirsk, Kramatorsk and Grodivka, as well as to the nearby Kharkiv region. They are being transported in cars and buses and, in the case of the most vulnerable, by train. Some evacuees are temporarily accommodated in train carriages at the railway station in Slovyansk, awaiting onwards transportation.

Apart from the organised evacuations, civilians continue to flee the conflict areas by their own means, facing numerous dangers along the way. As more homes and other civilian infrastructure is damaged or destroyed, UNHCR expects more people to be displaced to areas in central, southern and western Ukraine under the control of the Ukrainian government, but also to non-government controlled areas in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions.

Our teams on the ground report that many of the recently displaced are arriving with very few belongings and without proper winter clothes. To address the most urgent needs, UNHCR started to distribute relief items in northern areas of the Donetsk region, the main place of arrival of IDPs from the conflict areas. UNHCR's aid has been distributed through local NGO networks in Kramatorsk, Sviatohirsk and Kharkiv. Some 2,000 of the most vulnerable new arrivals received blankets, sleeping bags, bed linen, warm clothes and jerry cans.

Additionally, some 1,600 newly arrived IDPs from Debaltsevo and Vuhlehirsk have been assisted by UNHCR partners in conflict-affected areas which are not controlled by the government.

The lack of access to public services previously provided by the central authorities has drastically worsened the plight of the civilian population in areas not under government control. This has been further aggravated by restrictions to the movement of people and goods. The surge in fighting has further limited the supply of urgently needed goods in the conflict areas.

UNHCR maintains its call on all parties to the conflict to refrain from any actions that might endanger the life of civilians and to adhere to the principles of international humanitarian law.

To respond to the humanitarian crisis in Ukraine and address some of the most urgent needs of the people displaced by the conflict, UNHCR will be launching on Monday a supplementary appeal for USD 41.5 million for 2015.

For more information on this topic, please contact:

  • In Kiev, Nina Sorokopud on mobile +380 50 310 1767
  • In Geneva, Adrian Edwards on mobile +41 79 557 9120
  • In Geneva, William Spindler on mobile +41 79 217 3011