Humanitarian groups provide assistance to those affected by Donbas war

On this April afternoon in Kiev, I certainly observed a heavy dose of idealism, pragmatism and purpose brought together by humanitarians who continue to provide hope to an otherwise bitter war.

A VAN destroyed during fighting in eastern Ukraine’s Donbas conflict which is now in its fourth year. (photo credit: REUTERS)
A VAN destroyed during fighting in eastern Ukraine’s Donbas conflict which is now in its fourth year.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
In December 2005, the General Assembly of the United Nations declared April 4 as the International Day for Mine Awareness and Assistance in Mine Action. I noticed this commemoration on full display at Taras Shevchenko Park on a blissful spring morning in downtown Kiev. The event had added meaning in these parts, as the war between separatists and Ukraine’s army has only intensified in the Donbas region.
In light of tragic events in eastern Ukraine, there remains a continued effort by various humanitarian organizations to provide assistance for protecting civilians and refugees adversely affected by the dangers of war. Many of these organizations set up booths within the park. I also observed a plethora of explosive devices – like grenades and other types of weaponry – set upon tables, exhibiting how instruments of war are still being exploited on the battlefields.
I spoke to Asya Bolotova, the operations assistant/mine-risk education coordinator with the HALO Trust in eastern Ukraine.
She explained how the organization works to remove debris such as land mines left behind by war.
The organization has had a stellar track record of success worldwide in removing land mines and unexploded ordnance – otherwise known as LXO. According to data provided on its site, the HALO Trust has destroyed over 1.5 million land mines, over 11 million pieces of large-caliber ordinance and over 200,000 cluster munitions. Close to 11,000 minefields have been cleared.
“The territory in [eastern] Ukraine is divided up among several organizations, and we can conduct the survey of territory on the assorted area,” Bolotova told me. “After we conduct the survey, we can understand what kind of threat there is. Of course, if someone calls in and tells us about a mining accident, we can share this information with the Ministry of Defense, and they can survey the territory there.”
Donations are given to the HALO Trust by countries worldwide. They include the US and Britain. (I did notice that Bolotova brandished a US flag badge on her shoulder).
“Every team has its own [national] donor,” she said.
She added that accredited journalists and documentarians often join their teams.
“A lot of journalists are interested in our work and they try to show what we do. [The dangers] are a very big problem in Ukraine, and we need a lot of people to know about this,” she said.
The perilous situation in eastern Ukraine remains bad.
Alexander Hug, the principal deputy chief monitor of the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission to Ukraine said there had been “more than a dozen impact sites in which children [awoke] from sleep with the terrifying sounds of artillery rounds crashing into their homes and neighborhoods.”
Speaking to my colleague Oksana Chelysheva earlier this month, he added: “There [have been] many injuries.”
The conflict has led to a de facto partition of Ukraine and internal displacement for 1.6 million people, while many have fled across the borders, according to OSCE. In 2017, 480 civilians were killed.
“The sides should aim at zero civilian casualties. They have the power and authority to achieve this objective if they want it,” Hug explained to Chelysheva.
The Danish Demining Group (DDG), which works under the auspices of the Danish Refugee Council, was another organization set up in Taras Shevchenko Park on this afternoon.
“We’ve been here since November 2014 doing demining risk campaigns,” Henry Leach, who heads DDG, told me.
“We are a part of the Danish Refugee Council, which does a wide intervention concerning resettlement [and] legal assistance.
They do livelihood projects and... protection activities, as well. Our mission here is really to protect civilians from the dangers of land mines and unexploded ordnance – whether this be through providing information or through clearing the items themselves or through working with the authorities to boost their capacity – and to provide assistance wherever it is most needed,” he added.
In February 2015, DDG, as it reported on its website, initiated Mine Risk Education projects, the key objective being community awareness to the risks of mines and unexploded ordnance. The training of local residents in delivering ready-to-eat meals (MREs), the development of educational materials and conducting of public information campaigns have been some of the initiatives it has carried out in the area.
Leach emphasized that the organization “works in concert with all of the actors involved in mine-action, so that includes international NGOs – including the OSCE, for example – and national actors such as the State Emergency services and the Department of Defense.”
Is funding a problem? “No one will ever tell you they will never need more funding, but Ukraine has slipped off the radar a bit in terms of donors in recent years. [Nonetheless], we are seeing a bit more positivity... coming to the table and providing more funding,” he said.
Ordinary citizens throughout Ukraine often provide warm clothing, bed sheets and hygiene items through various relief agencies to those affected in the Donbas region. On this April afternoon in Kiev, I certainly observed a heavy dose of idealism, pragmatism and purpose brought together by humanitarians who continue to provide hope to an otherwise bitter war that remains a long way from being resolved.
The author writes on dissidents and literary figures in Eastern Europe and elsewhere.


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