Press statement: NGOs raise alarm about the consequences of the COVID-19 in eastern Ukraine
Kyiv, 14th of April 2020 – In Ukraine, the consequences of the pandemic could be dramatic for vulnerable populations, especially in the Eastern provinces where a six-year armed conflict let the health system and structures extremely weakened. Première Urgence Internationale, the Norwegian Refugee Council, the Danish Refugee Council and Right to Protection, which are intervening in the country, warn about the need for urgent measures to protect civilians, and offer their assistance to the government.
3.4 million people in need of assistance in Eastern Ukraine
The Ukrainian Government has taken laudable steps so far in order to curb the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic (National Preparedness and Response Plan), limitations on passenger transportation and mass gatherings; suspension of catering establishments, cultural, shopping and entertainment; establishment of the National Coordination Council to lead and oversee the response at the strategic level; reinforcement of the public health measures at the points of entry; information and risk communication campaigns. However such measures do not cater to the specificity of the needs in Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts, which have been directly affected by over six years of armed conflict. The eastern region has been the epicentre of critical humanitarian needs, where some 3.4 million people are estimated to be in need of humanitarian assistance throughout 2020.
The macro-economic impact of the COVID-19 in Ukraine may also prove quite significant. The already imposed quarantine restrictions could lead to significant loss for businesses and their budgets, while additional financing are required to strengthen and ensure preparedness of the healthcare system.
The quarantine, whose first and foremost goal is to tame the spread of the COVID-19 virus, and the ensuing lockdown of all the exit-entry checkpoints (EECPs) along the line of contact, have led to yet a problem – thousands of people who had been crossing the EECPs before their closure on 21st March are now cut off from essential medical, administrative, social and other services, including pensions and social payments.
Human dignity and rights are the priority
Apart from the factors listed above, the conflict in eastern Ukraine is now entering into its 7th year. The hostilities keep taking place on a daily basis, exerting a devastating impact on objects of essential infrastructure and ordinary people’s lives. As the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet recently said “COVID-19 is a test for our societies, and we are all learning and adapting as we respond to the virus. Human dignity and rights need to be front and centre in that effort, not an afterthought”.
We join this statement, by thinking that people safety and dignity must be protected in line with international humanitarian and legal principles, or as UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet said on 6th March 2020, “Human dignity and rights need to be front and centre” as we respond to the virus.
Première Urgence Internationale, Danish Refugee Council, Norwegian Refugee Council and Right to Protection are ready to provide their assistance to the government of Ukraine within their mandate in Ukraine.
Urgent steps to be taken by the government
Considering all of the listed above and in response to COVID-19 outbreak Première Urgence Internationale, Danish Refugee Council, Norwegian Refugee Council and Right to Protection have set out the most important and urgent steps that need to be implemented in eastern Ukraine by the government, as soon as possible:
- Bringing awareness to the people living along the contact line in Eastern Ukraine regarding the COVID-19 virus and the barrier gestures to prevent it;
- Strengthening the capacity of the public healthcare system, including healthcare personnel
- Strengthening community-based mental health and psychosocial support programming to counteract COVID-19 mental health issues
- Supporting the communities in practicing and maintaining recommended safety measures and hygiene practices.
- Ensuring the allocation and distribution of essential supplies needed to prevent the spread of COVID-19 (masks, gloves etc.)
- Supporting the people living along the contact line in sustaining their livelihoods, and in accessing their rights and social protection measures.
- While implementing all of the steps mentioned above, it is of utmost importance to ensure that any restrictions imposed on the rights and freedoms are in line with human rights law and standards. They should not last longer than strictly required by the circumstances and should not disproportionately affect the most vulnerable. Moreover, free movement of humanitarian agencies must be ensured for timely assistance to the populations of concern.
We are convinced that a potential negative impact of the outbreak of COVID-19 in Ukraine can be reduced by efficient joint efforts.
Première Urgence Internationale
Norwegian Refugee Council
Danish Refugee Council
Right to Protection
Sergiy Svyatenko – Communication Officer at Première Urgence Internationale
[email protected] +38 050 486 7630; +38 093 537 55 47.
Violetta Shemet – Communication Officer at the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC)
[email protected] + 38 050 468 45 38; + 38 067 828 58 94.
Viktoriya Hrubas – Communications Specialist at Danish Refugee Council (DRC)
[email protected] +38 073 10 20 917; +38 099 12 76 4 76.
Anastasiia Odintsova – Advocacy Coordinator at the CF “Right to Protection”
[email protected] +38 099 387 33 89.