Covid-19 and conflict causing chaos for people in eastern Ukraine

Published 25. Jun 2020
Thousands of people in conflict-affected eastern Ukraine are going hungry and lack access to basic services due to Covid-19 price hikes and movement restrictions. Ongoing shelling has also disrupted vital water supplies - meaning many vulnerable and elderly are without access to running water during the pandemic.

“Covid-19 has exacerbated a protracted humanitarian crisis and people, already exhausted by this ongoing conflict, are reaching breaking point. Families are facing severe challenges to meet basic needs and are forced to make impossible choices on whether to buy food or medicine,” said Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) Country Director, Ana Povrzenic.

A recent food security assessment conducted by NRC revealed that over three quarters of all families surveyed were struggling to make ends meet. Eighty-two per cent of the conflict-affected respondents living in the Luhansk and Donetsk regions of eastern Ukraine said increased prices of food and hygiene items have adversely affected their day-to-day life. Ukraine has seen the the price of a ´borsch basket´ (containing potatoes, cabbage, onions and carrots) increase almost by 30 per cent since the outbreak.

The assessment also found that a loss of household income due to quarantine measures is a key concern for people. Only a third of the households assessed reported receiving humanitarian assistance in the last two months. As of today, Ukraine’s revised Humanitarian Response Plan for 2020 has only received 15 per cent of total required funding.

In a new briefing note published by NRC today, “Double crisis: Addressing the impact of protracted conflict and Covid-19 in Ukraine”, the difficulties faced by elderly residents in non-government-controlled areas are also highlighted. Since Covid-19 restrictions came into place, all movement across the ‘contact line’ has been suspended – a measure which hits elderly residents especially hard, preventing them from accessing their pension payments and other social services, and rendering them unable to attend hospital appointments or even to withdraw cash.

Ukraine’s conflict has not paused during the Covid-19 pandemic. Frontline workers installing vital water and sanitation facilities were forced to run for safety after heavy shelling was reported in parts of Donbas last month. This halted crucial work to ensure people had access to clean running water to prevent the spread of the virus.

“The water is untreated and dirty. It is critical for us to restore the operation of treatment facilities so that the city finally gets clean water. Otherwise, we face dysentery, cholera, tuberculosis and coronavirus,” said Liudmyla (60), a resident of Krasnohorivka.

“Efforts must be stepped up to support the provision of water and sanitation services to people in need, especially the elderly, who feel frightened, forgotten and vulnerable to Covid-19. A properly resourced and coordinated humanitarian response, underpinned by strong political engagement, is necessary to address these systemic issues or else the crisis will take a downturn spiral,” Povrzenic added.

Notes to editors:
  • Our briefing note Double crisis: Addressing the impact of protracted conflict and Covid-19 in Ukraine can be found here.

  • For more information or interviews, please contact NRC's global media hotline at media@nrc.no or by phone +47 905 62 329.

Facts and figures:
  • The 2020 Humanitarian Needs Overview for Ukraine states that over 530,000 people, including displaced people outside eastern regions, are food insecure and about 480,000 require livelihood support.
  • More than 1.4 million people are internally displaced and 3.4 million require urgent humanitarian assistance as a result of the ongoing and often forgotten conflict in Ukraine, which is now in its seventh year.
  • Out of the one million journeys normally made across the contact line each month, two thirds are made by the elderly.
  • The recently revised Humanitarian Response Plan for Ukraine integrating newest activities related to Covid-19 in conflict areas calls for USD$205 million, including an additional USD$47 million funding requirement for contracting the pandemic. The plan seeks to address the needs of some two million people by providing emergency assistance and protection, including food, livelihoods and economic security centred on protection of livelihoods of the most vulnerable families by enhancing their food production while preventing potential spike of food insecurity – particularly due to economic impact of Covid-19.