SEATTLE — Before its internal crisis erupted in 2014, Ukraine had received little humanitarian assistance from the West. In the 10 years preceding the conflict, the U.S. had allocated only $12 million for humanitarian aid to Ukraine. Today, that number has risen significantly.
Where exactly is Ukraine’s current humanitarian assistance coming from? What are the obstacles to its effective use?
The top three donors to Ukraine are the European Commission, the U.S. and Germany. Together, these three provided $62.6 million in humanitarian assistance between 2014 and 2015. In March of this year, the EU Commission announced a €20 million increase in commitments, and in August, the very first U.N. supply convoys reached the city of Luhansk, which is currently controlled by pro-Russian separatist forces.
Over 2 million Ukrainian citizens have been displaced by Ukraine’s conflict. About a million of these have fled to neighboring countries, while nearly 800,000 continue to live in or near non-government-controlled areas.
The occupation of Donetsk airport in eastern Ukraine has also complicated the disbursement of aid. Government forces suffered a defeat there in January 2015 and lost 8,000 troops in a pocket near Debaltseve. As a result, humanitarian efforts have focused on rebel-controlled areas where elderly and handicapped victims have been unable to escape. The EU Commission reports that roughly 55 percent of its aid is targeted at these populations. Progress is being made, albeit slowly.
Projects by the U.N. High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) restored 1,500 properties in 2015, with another 1,500 pending for this year. Thus far, about 40 percent of the materials, technical advisers and funds for these projects have been delivered through U.N. agencies such as UNHCR, the World Food Program (WFP) and the International Organization for Migration (IOM).
Growing concerns over military infiltration by Russian agents, however, may be cause for reassessing humanitarian aid to Ukraine. The U.N. may decide to take on a greater share of the delivery burden.
Suspicions about Russian infiltration have existed since 2014, when listeners of “Echo of Moscow,” a Russian radio station broadcasting since 1990, called Red Cross humanitarian missions a “Trojan Horse.” Today, the Red Cross and other NGOs are responsible for 34 percent of aid delivered to Ukraine, and Russia is the fourth largest contributor ($5 million).
Whatever reassessment entails, aid should continue to be sent. In August, U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, called the 31,690 casualties from the Ukrainian conflict to date “very worrying,” adding that “neither the Ukrainian forces nor the armed groups are taking the necessary precautions to protect civilians.”
The responsibility to protect Ukrainian civilians falls into the hands of the U.N. and its partners. It is important that they continue assessing humanitarian aid to Ukraine in order to provide the most effective relief possible.
– Alfredo Cumerma