According to the United Nations Organization for the Co-ordination of Human Aid, 3.8 million people in the Donbass region are in need of humanitarian aid. With no end in sight to the military conflict in Ukraine's East, the hopes of thousands of innocent citizens living on both sides of the 'contact line' to return to a normal life are evaporating. Their dependence on external aid continues to deepen.
There has been an increase in civilian casualties in the war this year. The United Nations estimates that more than 2000 civilians have been killed since the start of the conflict in April 2014 and a further 9,000 people injured, mostly by shelling and explosions. There has also been massive damage to civilian housing and critical infrastructure, such as electricity, water, hospitals and schools further exacerbating the livelihoods of people living near the military hostilities, and threatening critical collapse.
Last week in Brussels the Rinat Akhmetov Humanitarian Center, the largest independent aid agency operating in Donbass, gave a media briefing about the worsening situation in the region and the problems faced by humanitarian aid partners operating there.
Since 28 February the Center has been blocked from operating outside the territories controlled by the Ukrainian Government, but is still able to reach citizens living in the war zone who cross the line of contact.
The Center provides not only food and medical aid, but also much needed surgical aid, psychological counselling, physiotherapy and rehabilitation for civilian victims suffering trauma as a result of the war.
Two eyewitnesses to the war who came with the Center's delegation to Brussels to tell their story were 5 year old Milana Abdurashytova and her grandmother Olga. Milana lost her leg when a rocket attack struck her apartment in Mariupol; her mother died in the attack. Milana is only one of thousands of civilian casualties in this war, but her story is one of bravery and hope. She has regained confidence to walk, and is able to talk about her tragedy, thanks to the ongoing support she and her grandmother have received from the Rinat Akhmetov Center. Whilst in Brussels, Milana visited the Schuman Monument to pay her respects and sympathies to the victims of the Brussels bombings, a poignant reminder that innocent civilians deserve all of the support and assistance that we can give.
Whilst the conflict in Donbass, now in its fourth year, shows no sign of abating, and despite funding and administrative challenges for the agencies, the international humanitarian aid community continues to stretch their limited resources in order to respond to the needs of the affected population.