The ‘contact line’, that divides Donbas in half, has significantly disrupted people’s lives and mobility in the past six years. Caused by the last armed conflict raging in Europe, this 450km long artificial separation impacted infrastructure and especially roads. Together with its sister initiative IMPACT, ACTED works to help civilians overcome hardships including through the provision of financial assistance. The two organizations also support humanitarian actors with aid response management and local authorities to build up their resilience and decision-making.
Roads, hospitals, houses: the total cost of damage to civilian infrastructure in Donbas is estimated at about $150 billion. As of 13 February 2015, date of the ceasefire agreement signature, 1569 km out of 7800 km of roads had been destroyed in the east of the country (according to the State Agency of Highways of Ukraine). This represents 20% of the roads.
All the more, forecasts predict that the recovery of the region’s infrastructure will take at least two years, assuming that no further significant damage is incurred. The problem has not improved since: substandard road quality and a lack of public transport become both the norm and a daily challenge for the population.
A lack of transport infrastructure hinders travelling from one settlement to another: this is especially problematic when someone needs to access medical services in bigger cities. In this easternmost region of Ukraine, it takes on average 30 minutes for an ambulance to arrive in Luhansk oblast, despite that it is still an everyday conflict-affected area.
While arrival times vary for many reasons, including understaffing or even lack of equipment, damaged roads are a key factor. Damaged roads themselves can be life-threatening, with the possibility that evacuation may not be possible when shelling or a natural disaster occurs.
Absence of transport is the main obstacles for the employment. The residents do not even have an opportunity to be registered at the Employment Center as one of the requirements to participate in trainings, job interviews in the Center. There are no working opportunities in the settlement itself
Bad roads also complicate the delivery of humanitarian aid, food, medicine, and the access of medical and social assistance or demining staff – yet Donbas is the most mine-contaminated area in the world.
Compounding this is the extreme weather experienced in Ukraine during the cold season. Bus and cars skid, asphalt cracks and mud slides when ice melts. Whether for food or life-preserving winter clothing, access to markets in large localities is limited due to irregular transport connections and high costs. For some settlements, winter means complete isolation: there is very little, if any, of the equipment and transport necessary to ensure that people and goods can still travel.
People have to go 4-5 km by foot to get any services or shops
This past winter, the REACH Initiative conducted an assessment of the living conditions in over 50 isolated settlements close to the ‘contact line’. People living in these settlements are likely to require more humanitarian assistance, as compared to the average conflict-affected population. According to the results of the assessment, the people living in these settlements consider the lack and poor quality of infrastructure as the most important daily life issue that they face. Among those visited by REACH, only three out of forty-one isolated settlements had access to roads in good condition. Even for those settlements with access to asphalt roads, which are more durable and less prone to security risks caused by mines, extreme weather events often lead to isolation.
Very poor quality of roads makes access to medical and social institutions more difficult, and there is no access to ambulances. In some settlements there is no asphalt pavement, so in the autumn-spring period people find themselves in isolation. In spring, due to the melting of snow, the risk of " washout and shift " of mines from the roadside to main road increases
Restoring civilian transport infrastructures requires enormous resources, funds and time. Such long-lasting challenges most clearly illustrate that conflict-affected populations continue to require external assistance, and underscore the crucial role played by humanitarian organizations in providing some of that assistance.
In 2019, ACTED launched a Disaster Risk Reduction programme to tackle some of these issues. The intervention include working with authorities to plan for evacuation in case of disaster, training communities to deliver first aid and psychological support and engage national and international stakeholders on mobilizing resources to rehabilitate key civilian infrastructures. Beyond those specific issues, the programme also look generally to reduce the vulnerability of people to disaster risks, including those posed by abandoned sites such as industrial facilities in conflict-affected areas.