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Ukraine: 2021 Humanitarian Needs Overview (HNO) [EN/UA/RU]

Summary of Context

The six-year-old armed conflict in eastern Ukraine is anything but frozen. Although the July 2020 ceasefire has brought marked reductions of hostilities and civilian casualties as well as the longest breathing space since the beginning of the armed conflict, the end is not yet in sight. The continuing conflict and the prevailing absence of a political solution have taken a heavy toll on the lives of millions of ordinary Ukrainians living on both sides of the “contact line” – a 427km-long line dividing the region into areas under the Government’s control (GCA) and those outside it (NGCA). It has also severed previously interdependent networks of services and markets and cut people off from the cities upon which they depended for social benefits and essential services.

The shock of COVID-19 has created additional pressure on the struggling populations. The pandemic and its ramifications have sent the weakened healthcare system, the floundering provision of social services and the declining regional economy to a breaking point. During the first months of the pandemic, all crossing points along the “contact line” were completely sealed off in an attempt to contain the virus which seriously restricted people’s freedom of movement. This made it almost impossible for the population in need, particularly the elderly living in NGCA, to obtain their main sources of income such as pensions and social benefits or to maintain family ties. Such exclusion has not only increased people’s vulnerabilities but also added to their mental and psychological stress. Although two of the five crossing points partially reopened in June 2020, crossing procedures and restrictions remain complicated.

Following the introduction of movement restrictions due to COVID-19 in late March 2020, the number of monthly crossings has been less than 10 per cent of the 1.2 million monthly crossings in 2019. Meanwhile, the volume of humanitarian aid delivered on UN-organised convoys to NGCA between March and October 2020 dropped by 14 per cent compared to the same period during 2019. The pandemic has made hundreds of thousands of conflict-weary people more vulnerable and more dependent on humanitarian aid. Severe restrictions of movement have and will further increase the affected population’s vulnerabilities hitting NGCA residents particularly hard. It is to be expected that the “contact line” will remain substantially closed until summer 2021. At the same time, the opening of the two new crossing points in Luhanska oblast has been indefinitely delayed due to disagreements on the mode of operation. On a positive note, gradual progress on new organizations gaining access to operate in NGCA is likely, especially to support the COVID-19 response.

With COVID-19 continuing to have a firm grip on the entire country, economic recovery in Donetska and Luhanska oblasts seems unlikely in 2021. Communities are expected to remain dependent on support to help them regain their self-sufficiency and recover from the effects of the prolonged crisis as well as the pandemic. Despite an increase in the Government’s engagement in humanitarian response in GCA, national emergency response and preparedness capacities are likely to be overwhelmed by increasing and more severe needs. The restrictions on movement across the “contact line” will contribute to increased vulnerability while the situation in NGCA is projected to be acute due to the limited capacity of hospitals and laboratories.

Scope of Analysis

This overview focuses on the humanitarian needs in the conflict-affected Donetska and Luhanska oblasts (hereafter called “conflict-affected area”) with particular attention to the affected areas on both sides of the “contact line”. It also considers those who have been internally displaced by the armed conflict, live in other oblasts across Ukraine and are faced with humanitarian and societal challenges.

The analysis takes into account the different needs of urban versus rural populations and residents of Governmentcontrolled areas and non-Government-controlled areas. The recent COVID-19 pandemic affects all dimensions of analysis and constitutes significant implications in the scope of the analysis, particularly within the health and WASH sectors.

Humanitarian conditions

The consequences of the armed conflict on people, their needs and the severity of those needs are examined along three dimensions. The effects of COVID-19 are cross-cutting and considered together with other shocks or stresses affecting the people.

Firstly, people in affected areas face critical problems related to their physical and mental well-being. These could be related to shelling and landmine contamination, direct damages to housing and civilian infrastructure, lack of access to health care and water and hygiene, as well as the risk of COVID-19 infection.

Secondly, people in affected areas face critical problems related to living standards referring to the direct and indirect impact of the armed conflict – exacerbated by COVID-19 – on their access to basic services and their ability to meet basic needs and to live a life of dignity. Numerous drivers of needs are related to living standards, such as challenges in access to health care, water and hygiene, inadequate healthcare capacities, limited freedom of movement, curtailed access to social benefits and civil documentation as well as winterisation needs and have aggravated the socioeconomic situation.

Lastly, people in affected areas face critical problems as their coping mechanisms become exhausted and individuals, households, communities and systems face challenges coping, impacting their ability to recover from the crisis. These coping mechanisms could be linked to reducing healthcare expenditures, spending savings, or resorting to borrowing money or food.

People in need / Severity of needs

With simmering hostilities and COVID-19 exacerbating the dire humanitarian situation, the needs are likely to remain similar in scale – albeit with significantly higher severity – with 3.4 million people in need of humanitarian assistance projected for 2021. Some 1.67 million of those in need live in NGCA, while 1.7 million live in GCA, including 340,000 IDPs living in undignified conditions in Donetska and Luhanska oblasts and other oblasts across Ukraine. IDPs account for 20 per cent of the overall number of people in need in GCA. The elderly, people with disabilities, female-headed households and children are among the most vulnerable.

Overall, the needs of the affected population differ in various parts of Donetska and Luhanska oblasts, depending on their specific characteristics, such as where they live (GCA vs. NGCA, rural vs. urban, proximity to an urban area, etc) and on their pre-conflict socioeconomic state. The challenging humanitarian situation in the conflict-affected areas has deteriorated due to the COVID-19 pandemic which has highlighted the urgent need to push through reforms of health care, social protection, judicial, taxation, and education systems and strengthen the coordination between national and the local governments and across sectors. 

Operation(s)/ Webspace(s): 
United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
Original Publication Date: 
15 Feb 2021
Document type: 
Humanitarian Needs Overview