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ANTHONY KERGOSIEN, REGIONAL OPERATIONS DIRECTOR LEADING ACTION CONTRE LE FAIM’S RESPONSE IN UKRAINE, TAKES STOCK OF THE SITUATION AND OF THE NGO’S INTERVENTIONS ON THE GROUND AND IN NEIGHBOURING COUNTRIES.
The situation is still extremely volatile. Since the summer, fighting has been focused on the front in the south of the country, including the cities of Mykolaiv and Kherson, and on the eastern front, around the cities of Kharkiv, Sievierodonetsk and Kramatorsk. However, since the explosion on the Crimean Bridge on 8 October, we are seeing a resurgence of air strikes and the use of more and more kamikaze drones by the Russian army. These strikes have seriously damaged civil infrastructures in several Ukrainian cities, and these essential infrastructures have continued to be targeted regularly ever since.
Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Station is under threat from these attacks, as bombings have damaged the power lines that connect the plant to the electricity grid, which could eventually affect the reactor cooling system.
As of 9 October, the UN Human Rights Monitoring Mission counted at least 15,592 civilian casualties, 6,221 of which had been killed and 9,371, injured. The World Health Organisation has tallied more than 550 attacks on healthcare structures since 24 February. This figure represents around three quarters of the total number of attacks on healthcare structures recorded all over the world in this period.
With every week that passes without a political resolution to the conflict, humanitarian needs intensify, especially in the areas near the front lines, where many of the civilian casualties and attacks on essential infrastructures have been located. As the winter approaches, large-scale forced interruptions to the water and electricity supply all over the country are particularly worrying. Millions of people could find themselves isolated and disconnected, without heating, light, water or communication services for prolonged periods, in regions where temperatures can fall as low as -10 or -20 degrees.
It is imperative that all parties involved in the conflict respect international humanitarian law by refraining from targeting the civilian population and civil infrastructures and ensuring that these are not affected by the indirect repercussions of combat and bombardment.
Action contre la Faim teams are present in the east of Ukraine, especially in the cities of Kharkiv, Dnipro and Zaporizhzhia. In these cities near the front lines, our teams and partners sometimes find themselves close to significant bomb attacks. Some of these bombings are aimed at so-called strategic targets, such as military structures, so we can simply stay away from them to minimise risk. Yet there are also much more random, indiscriminate attacks, which pose a serious risk to our staff.
We therefore carry out evaluations day to day and adapt our presence accordingly, in terms of exposure to risks and the impact our response can have on the population. We call on all parties to make sure that the humanitarian space is protected and to facilitate humanitarian operations on the ground.
The humanitarian needs we are seeing in Ukraine are considerable, in light of the intensity and duration of the conflict. They relate to fields as varied as health; access to water, sanitation, and hygiene; and essential goods. An estimated eighteen million people currently need humanitarian assistance.
Ensuring these people’s ability to cope with the arrival of winter and the cold in the middle of a war, widespread destruction, and a lack of essential goods is a priority for our teams right now.
Today, the majority of needs are covered by the Ukrainian state and local volunteers’ associations. All of civil society has been mobilised. In this context, Action contre le Faim primarily intervenes by collaborating with existing local organisations and supporting them financially, logistically and technically in their work. Action contre la Faim currently works with twenty-five partners in the country, including local organisations and authorities, and our teams address needs directly. Our operations take place in two distinct areas.
In the western part of the country, our mission in Chernivtsi revolves around helping displaced people and host communities. We lead mental health activities and offer multisectoral assistance via transfers of unearmarked money to cover vulnerable populations’ most urgent needs.
In the east of Ukraine, our teams in Dnipro, Zaporizhzhia and Kharkiv focus their response on the most vulnerable populations directly impacted by the conflict. We help to distribute warm meals, hygiene materials and essential goods. We are also developing mental health support and measures to strengthen medical supply chains for our medical partners active in the region. In addition, Action contre la Faim contributes towards the rehabilitation of water treatment plants and supply networks by providing equipment to repair the structures damaged by the conflict.
Our teams are set to launch activities in the south, in Odesa and Mykolaiv, in a few weeks’ time.
Since March 2022, our teams have directly and indirectly helped more than 250,000 people in the country, especially in the areas of food security, access to drinking water and mental health.
In any country, our partners and beneficiaries are rarely neutral when it comes to conflicts that impact them. Action contre la Faim therefore makes sure that the principle of neutrality is respected in its own actions.
In Ukraine, we are operating in a territory subject to martial law, where the authorities can requisition resources from any organisation. As such, it is possible that our humanitarian contribution in response to the population’s needs may indirectly provide assistance for combatants, even though Action contre la Faim is against this.
We are entirely aware of this porosity and are working with partners that share our values and intervention principles, in order to limit any compromise of the principle of neutrality. In particular, any activity that would directly contribute to the war effort is a red line for us, and this activity would be stopped, whether it is via partners or a direct intervention. This is why our teams work with partners to implement mechanisms that ensure financial transparency, ethics, accountability and neutrality in all our action. The support we provide is for civilians only.
The 7.6 million refugees outside of Ukraine have largely been received in neighbouring countries and the rest of Europe, where systems have been put in place. Our mission is present in Romania and Poland. Though the mass influx of refugees from the first few weeks has dissipated and some of them have even returned to Ukraine – to the western part that has been spared from the fighting – the context is still very volatile, and the arrival of winter could cause more population movements, so needs in these places are still very real. In Romania and Poland, Action contre la Faim operates in the mental health field especially and has also implemented multisectoral assistance through money transfers.
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