This month Mercy Corps launches its emergency response in the Luhansk region of eastern Ukraine. We will be one of the few relief agencies actively responding to the urgent humanitarian crisis resulting from a year of civil conflict in the area.
Since its independence from the Soviet Union in 1991, Ukraine has struggled to thrive due to poor governance, an unstable economy and a deep cultural divide between the country's European supporters in the west and its Russian supporters in the east.
In April of last year, after months of political tension and protests, non-government forces maneuvered to take control of eastern Ukraine, spurring counter attacks from the government and igniting months of violence in the region.
While a cease-fire signed in mid-February decreased attacks between forces, the prolonged fighting has devastated the area. Now, 1.1 million people are displaced and in need of humanitarian aid.
In the coming weeks, we will provide desperately-needed emergency supplies to people displaced by the conflict.
In Luhansk and throughout the conflict zone, over a million people have fled their homes. They have been forced to take refuge with host families or in makeshift shelters like abandoned buildings. Basic services including water and electricity have been disabled and the region’s infrastructure has suffered massive damage. The banking sector is shut down, the economy has stalled and millions are without any income. Many of the elderly, who make up more than 60 percent of the displaced population, have no access to the pensions they rely on to survive.
And throughout the harsh winter, people living in conflict-affected areas and those who have fled from the fighting have endured frigid temperatures reaching -22 F (-30 C), many without access to functioning heat or electricity.
“The situation in Luhansk is desperate,” says Stu Willcuts, Mercy Corps Country Director for Ukraine. “Resources have run out and for many people, especially the elderly, so have their options.”
Mercy Corps will be delivering emergency supplies to displaced families, including blankets and hygiene items like soap, toothpaste, baby powder and laundry detergent. And we will distribute cash transfers to the vulnerable elderly so they can purchase the items they need most.
We’ll also provide cash assistance to displaced families and host families to help them meet their urgent shelter needs, like paying rent and buying heating fuel.
Mercy Corps faces significant challenges in delivering this aid — there is limited access to those trapped in conflict zones, the danger of unexploded landmines and the risk of continued fighting. But the humanitarian need in eastern Ukraine is great. We are proud to begin operations in the country and are dedicated to protecting the lives and livelihoods of people caught in conflict there.
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