Kyiv (ICRC) – The year 2022 has seen tremendous amounts destruction and civilian suffering as a result of the international armed conflict between Russia and Ukraine. On top of the death toll resulting from military hostilities, thousands have been injured or have seen their loved ones go missing. And millions have been through traumatic events, with their physical and mental well-being severely affected.
In the past ten months, millions of people in Ukraine have been uprooted from their homes. As a consequence of the destruction of critical infrastructure, millions have lost access to essential services such as running water, electricity, and heating. This means millions will struggle to survive the harsh cold of winter in the next few months. Mines and explosive weapons also pose a great risk to the lives and safety of people, including in major urban centers.
In order to mitigate the many impacts of the armed conflict and alleviate suffering, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), in partnership with the Ukrainian Red Cross, has worked hard to deliver vital humanitarian assistance, notably in the areas most affected by fighting. Since February, our teams have assisted millions of people on both sides of the frontline, including in regions like Donetsk, Kharkiv, Kherson, Kyiv, Luhansk, Mykolaiv or Zaporizhzhia.
Our work to help communities affected by the international armed conflict, in cooperation with local and national authorities, takes many forms. We have aimed at helping people meet basic needs, with over 1 million provided with food and hygiene items and 400,000 who received direct cash assistance totaling over 179 million Swiss francs. We have also assisted some 170 health facilities in the country with much-needed drugs and medical equipment to continue their life-saving care, including in areas deeply affected by the fighting.
As many homes and critical infrastructure were damaged or destroyed, depriving millions of people of water, electricity and heating, we have worked closely with local authorities to restore access to essential services and rebuild houses. More than 10 million people have had restored access to clean drinking water thanks to our joint work with water boards in 13 regions of the country, and we have delivered over 1 million liters of drinking water to communities in need.
Over 40,000 families could repair their homes with ICRC tools and equipment. We have worked to restore heating systems for over 1.3 million people in the Kyiv, Kharkiv, Mykolaiv, and Chernihiv areas. This is on top of over 500 generators provided by the ICRC to local authorities – including the State Emergency Services, hospitals, and administrative bodies – in Kherson, Mykolaiv, Kharkiv, Sumy, and other regions.
Despite the unacceptable fact that we still have not been granted access to all prisoners of war (PoW) held as a result of this international armed conflict, our teams have been able to see hundreds of them on both sides. This means being able to check on their detention conditions and provide news to their loved ones, with over 4’000 pieces of information provided to families thanks to the work of our Central Tracing Agency Bureau for the international armed conflict between Russia and Ukraine.
Hundreds of families have received news on the fate of their loved ones through our Red Cross messages, and we have facilitated the exchange of more than 3,400 letters between Ukrainian PoWs and their families back home. The ICRC also accompanies the families of PoWs and the missing through these difficult moments by providing mental health and psychosocial support and financial and legal assistance to family associations.
The ICRC has worked with 40 structures of the Ukrainian medico-legal system to guarantee the dignity of dead civilians during the search and recovery process, restore their identities and provide answers to the families regarding their fate and whereabouts.
As unexploded ordnances threaten civilians’ life and safety, our teams have worked to promote risk awareness and safe behaviors. We have donated more than 30’000 warning signs to local authorities to mark hazardous zones and trained over 2’000 people, including officers from the State Emergency Service of Ukraine, on the dangers of mines.
Among the many people whose lives have been shattered by the effect of this conflict and whom our teams on the ground have met since February, the story of Tetiana, a resident of Shevchenkove, a small town in the Kharkiv region that was several impacted by military hostilities, exemplifies the suffering of civilians, especially as they have to go through a harsh winter season.
“I am very worried about those who have been left homeless. A friend’s house was heavily damaged. Doors and windows were smashed, as were the roof and the ceiling. Winter is around the corner, and there is no gas, no light, and no water. You can imagine what it’s like.”
In the coming months, our teams will continue to be next to the people affected by this international armed conflict on both sides of the frontline. We will assist those in need, particularly in places that suffered from intense fighting, for example Izyum, Lyman or Donestk.
We will also continue to strive for access to all people protected under International Humanitarian Law. The third Geneva Convention requires all parties to an international armed conflict to grant the ICRC full, regular and unimpeded access to all PoWs they hold. We will not rest until we have been able to see all of them and fulfil our Mandate. This is a humanitarian imperative and a matter of utmost priority for our organization, as is having access to civilian internees and bringing much awaited news to families of people who have gone missing as a result of this conflict.
The ICRC calls for better respect for international humanitarian law. Even wars have limits. Protecting civilians and essential infrastructures upon which their most basic needs rely is critical.
What we have achieved in Ukraine this year with our partners from the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement has positively impacted the lives of millions. But more support is still required to help a population in dire need. Our commitment remains strong, assisting especially the most vulnerable across the country.
During her recent visit in Ukraine, ICRC President Mirjana Spoljaric emphasized: “We must all strive to carve out a space to assist and protect those in need on both sides of the frontline. Neutral and impartial humanitarian action was designed for this very purpose.”
This is something we must not forget, and we are grateful to all those who helped us, including our Red Cross and Red Crescent partners, in fulfilling our mission.