Quick facts about the Ukraine crisis


August 2, 2016

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  • Anna Dmitrienko, 72, outside her home in Stanitsa Luhanskaya, Ukraine, describes how she was wounded in her legs, stomach, and shoulder due to shelling. Her daughter has moved to another village, while her granddaughter is living with neighbors. All photos: Brendan Hoffman for Mercy Corps

Violence in Ukraine has displaced more than 1.1 million people and left 3.1 million in need of humanitarian aid.

Thousands have been injured and killed, and vulnerable populations such as the elderly now have difficulty getting access to essential food, medicine and support.

Why did this happen? And how can you help? Read below to get the facts about the crisis in Ukraine.

What caused the conflict?

A building damaged by shelling in July 2014.

The conflict in the Donbas region of eastern Ukraine began in May 2014, in the aftermath of the 2014 Ukrainian revolution and Euromaidan movement demanding that the country have closer ties to the European Union. Intense fighting raged between non-government forces and government forces, with massive damage to towns and cities along a constantly-changing front line.

In September of that year, the first agreement for a cease-fire and a roadmap for a negotiated settlement were worked out in Minsk, the capital of Belarus. This agreement broke down by the beginning of 2015, when an intense artillery duel spread more destruction along both sides of the front line.

In February 2015, the second Minsk agreement significantly reduced the intensity of the fighting, but civilian casualties and damages have continued due to sporadic shelling and improvised explosive devices (IED) detonation.

How many people have been affected?

According to the United Nations, 21,880 people have been wounded and 9,470 people killed in the conflict, with as many as 2,000 of them civilians. But many observers in the region consider those estimates, including the proportion of civilians, to be extremely conservative.

The war has displaced more than 1.1 million people within Ukraine, and 3.1 million people are in need of support. These numbers change frequently as many thousands of people migrate between government-held cities or return to homes along the front line and non-government controlled areas. Movement is a continual problem, with huge lines forming at checkpoints that often force people to spend the night in the “grey zone,” areas where it is unclear who is in control.

Where are internally displaced people living?

Vasiliy Rudenko poses for a picture with Evia Kolotun (in back) and her daughter Sasha, 10, outside the house they've fled to after fighting forced them from Peredilsk, the village where they lived. Evia's husband Sergei joined the fight against pro-Russian rebels but hasn't been heard from in more than six months.

A large proportion of displaced people remain in government-controlled portions of the Donbas region or in large neighboring cities like Kharkiv and Dnipropetrovsk. Most rent apartments or small homes or live with relatives. Very few live in collective shelters. Thousands of those who are displaced struggle to pay rent, or they live in substandard, unmaintained rural houses they lack the resources to repair.

Tens of thousands of homes have been damaged by shelling along the front line and in other conflict-affected towns on both sides. In government-controlled regions, local authorities, Ukrainian volunteers and international NGOs have been able to address a significant proportion of these damages.

In non-government controlled territories, where repair needs are significantly larger, access for international organizations has been severely limited. Thousands of civilians are living in homes with shattered windows, broken roofs and inoperable heating systems.

Who has been forced to flee their homes?

The population most affected are the vulnerable, with 73 percent being elderly and 8 percent being children.

How are war-affected civilians supporting themselves?

The economic impacts of the war have been brutal, with massive reductions in mining and industrial output, the traditional backbone of east Ukraine’s economy. Other sectors such as small-scale agriculture have also suffered, with farmers cut off from their traditional markets in separatist-held cities.

A large majority of displaced people receive no income from work, and civilians who remained on the front lines have often seen their mines and factories shuttered or closed due to damages. Transitioning from work in large industrial enterprises to micro-businesses has been a challenge for many people, but authorities and international aid organizations are trying to support new entrepreneurs with training and financial assistance.

However, long-term solutions to the economic crisis will require significant assistance, credit and investment into the Donbas region.

How are the most vulnerable affected?

Nadezhda Kalashnikova with daughter Polina, 8 months old, at their home in Triokhizbenka. Kalashnikova lost her leg, and her 9-year-old daughter was killed, when a shell exploded near them as they rode a scooter from the hospital back to their home.

The UN reports that at least 60 children have died in the armed conflict, and more than 200 wounded. Today, many of the casualties among children are caused by IEDs and unexploded ordinances. Towns along the front line of the conflict are often mined on all sides, with many improvised IEDs installed and forgotten by various armed groups.

Around 50 percent of children from Donbas communities (both near the front line and in those towns accepting displaced people) require some level of psychological treatment. If the focus is narrowed to children in front line and “grey zone” communities (where it is not clear which side controls the town), then more than 90 percent show symptoms of psychological distress.

Among children in front line communities, there are significantly higher rates of sleep disorders and disruptive behavior. While front line schools are striving to continue classwork, sports and art, children in these communities lack regular access to positive activities. They often have no escape from the tension and trauma that surrounds them.

Many of those displaced are elderly, making them particularly vulnerable to the hardships of life away from home. In addition to the usual needs facing displaced people, the elderly have particular difficulty obtaining necessary medicines and treatment.

During Mercy Corps’ humanitarian intervention in the Donbas, the elderly have been the primary recipients of food and cash assistance, alongside other especially vulnerable groups such as single mothers, multi-child families and the disabled.

Is there enough assistance to reach everyone?

The UN estimates $298 million is needed in 2016 to meet the humanitarian needs in the Donbas. Right now, however, only 19 percent of that amount has been made available by donors. Unmet needs are particularly acute in the non-government controlled areas, where shortages of funds and restricted access limit the humanitarian response.

What can I do?

The conflict in east Ukraine is essentially a frozen conflict, but one which has displaced over 1 million people and put 3 million at risk. We must continue to find a way to help them connect with livelihoods so they have a chance to provide for themselves and their families.

With children being among the most affected, we need to expand the network of children's programs to help kids regain their childhood and recover from what they've experienced.

Donate and help us continue to work with those affected by the crisis in Ukraine to build back their lives.