The protracted crisis in the Donbas region of Ukraine is well into its sixth year. The contact line continues to separate Government controlled area (GCA) and Non-Government controlled area (NGCA) of Donetsk and Luhansk regions. This separation isolates much of the population in GCA from important services and livelihood providers in urban centres in NGCA. Along the 427-kilometre contact line, there are five open exit-entry checkpoints (EECP) in Hnutove, Novotroitske, Marinka, Maiorsk and Stanytsia Luhanska, where internally displaced and conflict-affected people cross to visit relatives, buy food and other goods, receive social payments and check on their property.

Since the opening of these EECPs, the number of people crossing the contact line continues to grow. Every month, there are about 1,3 million people recorded crossing through all five of the EECPs. Long queues and correspondingly, long waiting times at checkpoints continue to be reported. During their journey to cross the contact line, very often people face difficult weather conditions and slow processing times. These civilians who cross the contact line have limited access to basic services such as drinking water, latrines, weather shelters, heating, and medical care.

Photo: Dmytro Tielushkin/The Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC)
Ukraine

Six facts after six years of crisis

In April 2014, hostilities broke out in eastern Ukraine. Since then, the territory has been split, and a once-integrated community is now divided by a 427-kilometre-long frontline, the so-called “contact line”. Six years on, Ukraine is still shaken by the armed conflict in its eastern part. Despite various attempts over the years to secure an end to the violence, the crisis continues to affect 5.2 million people.

Here are six things you should know about the situation in Ukraine.


1. Over 1.4 million people have been registered as internally displaced across the country

Where a displacement crisis continues for six years, the prospects for displaced people to integrate into local communities or achieve lasting solutions remain uncertain. With resources stretched to the limit, many displaced families still face discrimination and experience challenges in finding housing and accessing services, as well as securing stable employment. Twelve per cent of internally displaced people in Ukraine have had their social payments suspended since registering.

Nadiia Parfemchuk, 54, and Heorhii Mironenko, 61 live in Kurakhove collective centre more than five years without bleak prospects to return home in Marinka, as it is destroyed and located in mine-contaminated area with everyday shelling. 
“We lived in a big fully refurbished house in Marinka and had everything what we needed for normal life. We have been living here since August 2014, it was impossible to stay home, as it became epicentre for hostilities. When our house was hit, we were in Kurakhove with my husband’s sister. Everything was burnt. Nothing remained there, we were trying to get our staff, but could not do it, because of active hostilities. We came here in what we were wearing. Local town residents and humanitarian organisations helped us a lot. My daughters live here in Kurakhove  one in collective centre, another one rents an apartment”, says Nadiia. 
Nadiia was working in the kindergarten,  however, she got under reduction and lost her job. She did not reach retirement age and barely makes the ends meet. Their house is destroyed, and they have to pay 2,000 hryvnias (nearly 70 US dollars) for utilities in cold season. It is very mouldy here. 
Heorhii started working recently, as they need to survive somehow. Most of humanitarian assistance is provided to pensioners over 65 years. Their house is in the red zone, they cannot even access it. Even military people do not walk there. Nadiia and Heorhii say that they would like to get house somewhere in the safe place. 
Photo: Dmytro Telushkin/the Norwegian Refugee Council
Read caption In the Kurakhove collective centre for internally displaced people, Nadiia, 54, and Heorhii, 61, are showing photos of their destroyed home. Photo: Dmytro Tielushkin/NRC

2. More than 13,000 people have been killed, a quarter of them civilians, and over 30,000 have been injured (over 7,000 of them civilians) since the beginning of the conflict

The hostilities take a heavy toll on civilians. The direct impact on ordinary people remains a challenge as daily shelling and the presence of landmines and unexploded ordnances continue to affect physical and mental wellbeing.

Community infrastructure and civilian assets are also attacked, putting millions at risk of losing access to water, health, education and heating.

More than 55,000 residential buildings on both sides of the “contact line” have been damaged or destroyed, in addition to schools, hospitals and water facilities.

Estimates suggest that two million people are affected by mine contamination within the 20-kilometre area on both sides of the “contact line”. This poses lethal risks and keeps people from working on their farms or even collecting firewood. Over 1,000 casualties related to mines and explosives have been recorded since 2014.

Volodymyr and Anzhela Blyzniuk. They live in the contact line village of Zhovanka, Donetsk region. 
Their house was damaged due to the armed conflict. They dream about house renovation and the new life beginning.
They have managed to survive after three hours laying on the cold winter ground hiding from the long-lasting shelling. And they never forget that day, 9 January 2016. 
A shot-up car, dozens of bullets, that Volodymyr pulled out from his car, as well as shrapnel, which is never removed from Anzhela's shoulder, also a reminder of that day.


Photo: Natalia Patlatiuk/Norwegian Refugee Council
Read caption Volodymyr Blyzniuk, 52, from the frontline village of Zhovanka still keeps the dozen bullets that damaged his car and injured his wife, Anzhela. Photo: Natalia Patlatiuk/NRC

3. Every month over one million people cross the contact line despite deadly risks of shelling, landmines and explosives

Civilians have to cross the contact line through five entry-exit checkpoints serving the entire Donetsk and Luhansk regions. They cross to visit their families, go shopping at the market, obtain documents or access essential state services, as well as to check on their property. Most of those people are over 60 years old and travel to access their pension, which is their only source of income.

People queue at the checkpoints for hours, even in harsh winter conditions or under the scorching summer sun. While there have been improvements in the crossing conditions, over 90 people have died due to health complications at the checkpoints in just the last two years. Despite the considerable efforts made by the government and humanitarian community, checkpoints still lack basic services such as hygiene facilities, drinking water and first aid.

Civilians have to cross the contact line through five entry-exit checkpoints serving entire the Donetsk and Luhansk regions. They cross to visit their families, go shopping at the market, obtain documents or access essential state service as well as to watch on their property on both sides. Most of those people are over 60 who travel to access their pension, which is the only source of income. People are queueing at the checkpoint for hours, either harsh winter conditions or scorching sun in summer. While there have been improvements in the crossing conditions over 90 people died due to health complications at the checkpoints during 2018-2019. Despite the considerable efforts made by the government and humanitarian community, checkpoints still lack basic services such as hygiene facilities, drinking water and first aid.
Photo: Dmytro Tielushkin/The Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC)
Read caption The checkpoint of Stanytsia Luhanska. Thousands of people cross the so-called “contact line” every day to visit relatives, buy food and other goods, receive pension and social payments and check on their property. Photo: Dmytro Tielushkin/NRC

4. Over 530,000 people are food insecure and about 480,000 require livelihood support

The protracted crisis has stretched people’s resources to breaking point. Rising prices and a reduction in industrial production, coupled with high levels of unemployment, have affected people’s abilities to provide for themselves and their families. People in eastern Ukraine are often forced to make impossible choices on whether to buy food, medicine or send their children to school.

Weakened social protection systems, disrupted access to markets and the suspension of social benefits have severely affected those who are the most at risk, such as older people, single-parent households and people with disabilities.

Large family of Tetiana Asmanova and Kateryna Yakovenko. 
Nikita and Volodymyr, Olha and Natalia, Veronika and Vladyslav, Daniela and Mariia.
Photo: Violetta Shemet/The Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC)
Read caption Every winter, Tetiana Asmanova, 30, who is displaced within Ukraine, struggles to secure food and warmth for her large family. Photo: Violetta Shemet/NRC

5. Access to rights is a challenge for the conflict-affected population

Almost 700,000 retired people do not receive their pension because of restrictive policies linking the payment of pensions with the requirement to register as an internally displaced person.

Over 50 per cent of children born after 2014 in the regions of Donetsk and Luhansk, which are currently not under the control of the Ukrainian authorities, have not received a birth certificate issued by the Government of Ukraine, which means that they cannot access education or health services and are at risk of becoming stateless.

Formal confirmation of deaths in these areas also remains difficult to obtain, which leads to challenges concerning inheritance and property rights.

Oleksandra Belotserkovets, 86 years, from Marinka, lives alone in a small mouldy room in Kurakhove collective centre. Her home was destroyed, and humanitarian organisations still cannot assist her to rebuild her house, as it is in the red zone of contact line. Her husband died in 2010, two sons were killed - one in young age, second died as a result of shelling.
“On 11 of July my son Viktor called me, and suddenly I heard very loud sound of explosion, the lights went off. I was wandering what happened. My son cut off the phone and did not call me back. I was trying to reach him by landline and mobile phone. However, he did not answer. I had very bad feeling that something terrible happened. At night my daughter-in-law called me and told me to hide in the basement as a new shelling was about to start, when I asked her about my son, she bitterly cried and said that he was dead. My neighbour helped me to get to Viktor’s house and I saw him dead, I will never forget what I saw that day. We could hardly bury him, the shelling was very close”, recalls Oleksandra. 
Oleksandra’s house was burnt completely, 20 days after Viktor’s death. Her son’s wife Svitlana brought her to nearby, but safer town of Kurakhove. Oleksandra did not want to be a burden and odd for Svitlana and grandchildren. She went to local administration; they provided her with small room in the collective centre. 
Many times Oleksandra to local authorities with request to get accommodation, small house. She is worried that one day she will be evicted from the centre. As of now, her house cannot be restored, as it is in red zone. She is seeking assistance to receive small, but own house in safer place. 
Photo: Dmytro Telushkin/the Norwegian Refugee Council
Read caption Oleksandra Belotserkovets, 86, from Marinka, lives alone in a small room in the Kurakhove collective centre for internally displaced people. Photo: Dmytro Tielushkin/NRC

6. Humanitarian response is being underfunded

Despite the impact of the ongoing crisis, the humanitarian response has been hampered by a lack of funding.

The ability of humanitarians to meet the needs of the affected population depends on the level of funding. Ukraine was ranked fifth in NRC’s list of the world’s most neglected displacement crises in 2019. In 2018, the humanitarian response plan was only 37 per cent funded, making it one of the most severely underfunded appeals. Despite a slight increase in 2019, funding has remained low, limiting the response.

The humanitarian community reaches just over one million people annually – only half of those in need – due to limited resources and lack of access.

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NRC has worked across Ukraine since 2014 helping conflict-affected people to repair their damaged or destroyed houses and become self-sufficient through business grants, professional training and development projects. We also provide legal services to enable displaced and other affected people to exercise their rights.

Since the beginning of our activities in Ukraine, we have managed to aid over 159,000 people.

Read more about our work in Ukraine.