Life in conflict-affected areas in Eastern Ukraine

Despite its disappearance from the international media spotlight, the conflict in Eastern Ukraine is still ongoing.

Seven years on, civilians, infrastructure, residential buildings and non-residential facilities in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions are still vulnerable. Regular shelling along the contact line has caused significant damage to civilian – residential – buildings. Civilian populations continue to pay a heavy price. They live in areas where danger is everywhere: in the air with constant shelling, in the soil with chemical contamination, or on the ground with landmines. In 2020, 3.5 million people are in urgent need of humanitarian assistance. Furthermore, every day people have to face lacking food: 530,000 people were estimated to be food insecure in 2020.

This was pre-Covid-19: the socio-economic impact of the pandemic and the measures taken to contain its spread will significantly worsen this situation on both sides of the contact line. A great portion of the population also suffers from severe psychological trauma after more than six years of armed conflict, with limited prospects of resolution in sight.

The contact line, which separates Government and Non-Government Controlled Areas, limits people’s access to their social payments, pensions, savings and basic services; they struggle to buy food, medication and other goods. For those who try to cross – to access these services and goods, or visit family or property – it takes a lot of time and energy, and can be life threatening in the dead of winter or height of summer, due to extreme temperatures and crossing conditions. Indeed, lines stretch for hours at the only 5 crossing points that exist. But, since March 2020, the contact line has been closed due to Covid-19, preventing over a million people from accessing their pension entirely, visiting relatives, seeking medical care, etc.

Donetsk ans Luhansk oblast - Reference map, REACH june 2019

As a humanitarian organization, ACTED has been responding to some of the needs caused by the conflict – notably through a multi-donor, multi-million emergency cash programme targeting the most vulnerable in hard-to-reach areas.

In order to continuously improve our programming, adapt it to people’s highest and changing needs, and ensure that beneficiaries can let us know in case of issues during implementation, teams in Ukraine have been running a complaints and response hot line since 2017. Since then, our team has received thousands of feedbacks and words of appreciation from ACTED’s beneficiaries. This helps us move forward and continue to save lives and support people to meet their needs in times of conflict – and now Covid-19 as well.

ACTED’s hotline is operated by Accountability Assistants, whose job is very stressful and demanding: they listen every day to people’s difficult life stories – shelling, poverty, health problems, family separation, loss of home, etc. Thanks to their hard work, we can share parts of some Ukrainians’ reality with the world. Thus, here are five stories from ACTED’s beneficiaries which illustrate the full scope of the issues in Eastern Ukraine and highlight why humanitarian aid continues remains essential in 2020.

I am living alone with 5 children in conflict-affected areas near the Contact Line in Eastern Ukraine. During the hostilities, my husband mysteriously went missing when he travelled back to non-government-controlled area for documents. After he crossed the Contact Line, no one saw him again. In 2018, my eldest daughter died of cancer as a result of stress associated with hostilities and the loss of her own house. After the death of my daughter, I took on the task of raising two grandchildren. We have not lived but survived, because there was not enough money for food, heating the house and clothes. With humanitarian assistance from ACTED, we were able to meet our basic needs for the near future, and survived the 2019-2020 winter.”

                                                                                              –  Maria, Donetsk oblast

ACTED Ukraine

“I live with my wife and daughter in Eastern Ukraine, where the conflict began in 2014. Those moments when the shells flew over our house and exploded nearby will remain in my memory forever. Because of this, we lived in constant stress and fear – my wife and daughter contracted cancer. In addition to this, I have a disability and limited mobility. All the money that we had, we spent on treatment, meaning that we often had to go hungry. Thanks to help from ACTED, we were able to buy all necessary foodstuffs and allocate a certain amount of money for heating our house in the winter 2019-2020.

                                                                     – Victor, Popasna raion, Luhansk oblast

ACTED Ukraine

“I am a single mother of two children: seven and nine years old. Despite difficulties and miseries, we never give up. All family members have their duties and responsibilities. Children study at school and help me with homework: they work in the garden and take care of the pets. ACTED’s cash assistance made it possible to implement our plans to purchase seedlings and buy rabbits. This is an additional guarantee for our family’s financial stability for the future.”

                                                             Liubov, Mariinka raion, Donetsk oblast

“I am the mother of a 14-year-old boy. The father does not live with us. No matter what difficulties we encountered, we have never asked for help. But this time we have faced a very hard situation. Doctors gave my child a serious diagnosis – a heart condition, which was very hard to deal with. When I received the call from ACTED, I did not believe that they could help me. (…) I am sure that my son and I will overcome this challenge. Thanks to ACTED’s assistance, the money needed for the surgery has been collected and we are waiting to go to Kyiv for the surgery. My son will be healthy! I believe in this and thank everyone who supported us!”

                                                                 Valentina, Luhansk oblast

As a part of its humanitarian response, ACTED provided emergency cash assistance to cover the most urgent humanitarian needs of 14 470 people in conflict affected areas to the Contact Line in Eastern Ukraine since 2018. This was possible thanks to support from the American people (through the US Agency for International Development/Office for Food For Peace), the European Union (through its Civil Protection and Humanitarian Operations), the German Foreign Ministry, and the Government of Canada (through Global Affairs Canada).