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IN ONE YEAR THE WAR IN UKRAINE HAS RESULTED IN ONE OF THE LARGEST DISPLACEMENTS OF PEOPLE SINCE THE SECOND WORLD WAR AND A DRAMATIC INCREASE IN HUMANITARIAN NEEDS IN THE REGION.
Action Against Hunger has responded accordingly by opening projects in Ukraine, Poland, Romania and Moldova, while being particularly vigilant about the wider impact of this conflict on global food insecurity.
On 24 February 2022, after years of tensions, Russia launched a major military offensive on Ukraine. The Russian armed forces quickly took control of vast expanses of land in the north, east and south, while aerial and artillery shelling caused widespread destruction throughout Ukraine.
In April, the Ukrainian counter-offensive forced the withdrawal of Russian forces in the north of the country. Fighting then continued in the east and south. The front-line is continually shifting and many areas are becoming accessible anew to humanitarian players who are responding to ever-increasing needs. However, Russia’s attempt to control parts of the Donetsk, Kherson, Luhansk and Zaporijia Oblasts makes humanitarian access to these areas unpredictable.
In October, Russia’s attacks on Ukraine’s energy infrastructures intensified, further disrupting public services, including water, electricity, heating, healthcare, education and social welfare. The energy crisis is exacerbating humanitarian needs and sparking concern among national and international aid organisations, in a country where winter temperatures can drop below minus 20 degrees Celsius.
Over the year, the conflict, with repeated violations of international humanitarian law, has resulted in widespread destruction and a dramatic increase in humanitarian needs in the country. In the first weeks of the conflict, millions of people fled the country. It is now estimated that nearly 8 million people have fled Ukraine and 6 million people are internally displaced.
In the absence of a political solution to the conflict, humanitarian needs are continuing to grow, particularly in areas affected by fighting and shelling, where there have been large numbers of civilian casualties and damage to critical infrastructures. 17.6 million people are in need of humanitarian assistance and 14.6 million people need health assistance in the country.
11 million people in Ukraine are in need of water, sanitation and hygiene assistance. This includes people directly affected by the hostilities or internally displaced to collective centres and host communities. This creates a high risk of disease spreading, due to lack of water, sanitation and hygiene.
“Without a political solution to the conflict, the humanitarian needs will continue to rise, especially in conflict-affected areas where there are large numbers of civilian casualties and damage to critical infrastructure. We ask all players to ensure the protection of the humanitarian space and to facilitate humanitarian operations on the ground”.
Charlotte Schneider, Director of Operations, Action Against Hunger.
According to the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO), the war has created major obstacles to access to food and exacerbated the vulnerability of local, regional and international food systems already threatened by climate change and the COVID-19 pandemic.
In Ukraine, the reliance on coping strategies is beginning to exhaust the resilience of families affected or displaced by the conflict. Food insecurity is no longer a problem limited to the easternmost part of the country, but is now a widespread phenomenon fuelled by reduced food production and inflation soaring to nearly 25%, which has a direct impact on the ability of the entire population to access food. An estimated 10 million people in Ukraine are now in need of food aid.
Internationally, Ukraine’s preponderant place in the production and export of staple foods such as wheat and maize has raised fears of an increase in food insecurity in other parts of the world. The outbreak of the war last February set off a shock wave on the food market due to the substantial halt in Ukrainian exports, in a context already made tense by the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.
However, the anticipated devastating effects on global food insecurity have not materialised and the ongoing conflict in Ukraine cannot be seen as the only cause of the food and nutrition crises to come. They are the result of a multitude of factors (economic and social crises, speculation, health crisis, conflicts, governance problems, failing food systems, climate disruption and extreme weather events, etc.). This shows, for Action Against Hunger, that the war in Ukraine should not be analysed as the cause of the food crises but should be seen as a revealing and catalysing factor of the underlying and historical causes of hunger. In this regard, the war in Ukraine has brought to light the failure of current food systems at the global level.
“We lived in Kharkiv, in an area under very heavy bombing. Many of the homes have been destroyed. We can no longer live there. That is why we are now living in an anti-aircraft shelter. Here, we are safe. For a long time, the children were afraid to go out and couldn’t sleep at night. Whenever we can, we buy food products. We wash up in the sink. We don’t have a shower. Sometimes there is hot water, and sometimes we have to wash with cold water. Or we use the kettle to heat it. We have access to hot meals. We receive constant humanitarian aid. We only buy 10% of what we need.”
Oleksandr, displaced with his family in Kharkiv, June 2022.
From the very start of the conflict, Action Against Hunger’s emergency teams assessed the situation and began to respond to humanitarian needs in connection with partners in Ukraine and neighbouring countries (Poland, Romania, Moldova). Today, Action Against Hunger’s response is aimed at providing assistance to the most vulnerable populations in Ukraine and refugees in the three neighbouring countries in conjunction with the local authorities and organisations, while adapting our operational response, in accordance with changes in the conflict.
Today, the coordination of Action Against Hunger in Ukraine is based in Vinnytsia. Part of the operational response takes place in the western part of Ukraine (Chernivtsi base) with activities relating to assistance to displaced persons and the host community (mental health, food distributions, cash transfers to cover the most urgent needs of populations). The other part of our activities is concentrated in the eastern part of Ukraine (Dnipro, Zaporijia and Kharkiv bases) where the teams directly assist the very vulnerable populations affected by the conflict but also through humanitarian partners already on the ground (daily distribution of hot meals, essential products and hygiene kits, supply of drinking water, strengthening of sanitation and donations of equipment to the government agency in charge of water supply for the rehabilitation of water treatment and distribution systems affected by the air strikes).
Action Against Hunger will also soon extend its intervention to the south of the country, particularly in the Odessa and Mikolaïv Oblasts. Priority will be given to the distribution of food and basic necessities.
From March to December 2022, our teams helped more than 480,000 people across the country. However, with the arrival of winter and the destruction of energy infrastructure by the Russian army, the threat of a collapse of the electricity grid has been significantly impacting the living conditions of already highly vulnerable populations and the ability of humanitarian players to meet their needs.
“Whatever the country, our partners and the people we help are often not neutral in the conflicts that affect them. Action Against Hunger thus makes sure to respect the principle of neutrality in its actions.
In Ukraine, we operate in territory subject to martial law, where the authorities can requisition any organizations resources. As a result, we cannot escape the possibility that the humanitarian contribution to the response to the needs of the population may indirectly provide assistance to the fighting forces, even if Action Against Hunger refuses this.
We are fully aware of this porosity and work with partners who share our values and principles of intervention, in order to limit any compromise on the principle of neutrality. In particular, any activity that might contribute directly to the war effort is a red line for us, which would lead to the cessation of this activity, whether through partners or in direct intervention. It is for this reason that our teams are working with our partners to establish mechanisms to ensure the financial transparency, ethics, accountability and neutrality of our actions. The support we provide is for civilians only.”
Anthony Kergosien, Regional Director of Operations for Action against Hunger
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