UNHCR chief appeals for easing of restrictions on movement across contact line in Eastern Ukraine

This is a summary of what was said by UNHCR spokesperson Babar Baloch to whom quoted text may be attributed at today's press briefing at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi meets with residents of a housing tower for Ukrainians displaced by fighting in the country's east. Grandi shakes hands with Zinaida Vognystaya, 74, who fled from Avdiivka and has been living in the complex since January 2015.  © UNHCR/John Wendle

UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi has appealed to all parties involved in the conflict in Ukraine to improve freedom of movement at check points for people living near the line of contact and to allow humanitarian aid to reach hundreds of thousands of people displaced in government and non-government controlled areas.

Grandi's appeal came at the end of his first visit to Ukraine on Thursday, in which he pushed for solutions for affected populations on both sides of the line of contact. 

He was greatly impressed by the resilience of Ukrainian people displaced or continuing to reside on both sides of the line of contact. Many still live in partially destroyed homes, in villages now lacking some public services including transport.  Grandi observed that some people had already returned to their areas of former residence. 

Two and a half years of conflict have left more than two million Ukrainians displaced from their homes or living as refugees in Russia. 

Despite a ceasefire in place since 2014, civilians continue to pay a very high price as a result of the conflict, especially in the areas on both sides of the line of contact. Grandi witnessed the growing humanitarian challenges in the frontline towns and villages of eastern Ukraine as harsh and bitter winter conditions are about to set in.

Existing procedures at check points have severely limited the ability of people to leave the conflict area, return home to visit family members or check their property. Long queues and bureaucratic procedures further increase the isolation of frontline communities and divide families. Many people are unable to access services like medical care and social benefits.

Grandi visited several villages near Sloviansk, Luhansk and Donetsk which were heavily damaged by shelling and fighting, where people are returning. In some villages, the situation is desperate with many houses in ruins, without windows and roofs.

The High Commissioner witnessed two-kilometre-long queues at a checkpoint with elderly people and families with children, who had spent the previous night in freezing temperatures to cross the line of contact in Mayorsk.

UNHCR and its partners have started programs to help people to repair their houses. In non-government controlled areas near Luhansk, houses for 1,200 families have already been prepared and work for an additional 2,000 is planned for next year. 

UNHCR is ready to support people living near the contact line in improving access to social services and transport. UNHCR calls on the international community, including financial institutions, to support Ukraine.

 

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