Despite the "truce", the crisis in Ukraine does not appear to be concluding any time soon. Compared to other conflicts, the mainstream media has played relatively little attention to how the hostilities are impacting the civilian population, a series of issues that I will cover in this posting.
Let's open with two maps of Ukraine, the first showing the oblasts or administrative districts:
According to the United Nations, since the conflict in Ukraine began in mid-April 2014 until mid-February 2015, 5,665 people were killed and 13,961 were wounded in eastern Ukraine. The UN Human Rights Mission in Ukraine anticipates that these numbers will rise over the coming days because reporting on casualties during the pre-ceasefire period was delayed due to hostilities. The United Nations is also concerned about the welfare of civilians that are trapped in the Debaltseve area since they believe that an estimated 5000 civilians may be hiding cellars, struggling to get sufficient nutrition and other necessities.
The Ministry of Social Policy of Ukraine (MoSP) reports that, in mid-February, there were 1,042,066 displaced persons registered from the Donbas and Crimea regions. In addition, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, in early February 2015, there were an additional 600,000 Ukrainians that have sought asylum or other forms of legal stay in external countries including Russia, Belarus, Moldova, Poland, Hungary and Romania since February 2014. Heavy fighting in the Donetsk region has destroyed both buildings and infrastructure which has resulted in the evacuation of civilians in conflict areas by the Ukraine government. Most cities along the frontline do not have access to clean drinking water and repair attempts have failed because of mortar attacks. Three towns that have recently experienced particularly fierce combat have seen the evacuation of more than 2800 civilians including 700 children. In some cases, even the transportation used to evacuate civilians has come under shellfire. The government is growing increasingly concerned for residents who live in areas close to the front lines and is planning to move these people to central, southern and western parts of the country. Evacuees are leaving conflict areas by bus and car and, in some cases, by train. Approximately 150 evacuees are also temporarily living in wagons at the railway station in Slovyansk until suitable accommodation and onward transportation becomes available. Between 100 and 200 evacuees are arriving at the Slovyansk train station on a daily basis.
Here is a map showing an overview of the internally displaced persons in Ukraine:
According to the World Health Organization, in December 2014, the health situation of civilians in Ukraine has deteriorated significantly in the areas that have been affected by conflict . No children have been vaccinated in these areas since September 2014 which has resulted in a reduction of polio vaccine coverage to less than 30 to 40 percent. In 60 villages along the front lines there are no medical personnel remaining and in Luhansk city, only 30 percent of the medical staff remain in place. In Donetsk Oblast, 10 to 15 percent of the pre-conflict 85,000 medical personnel have left the area. Ten health facilities were damaged or destroyed by shelling and those that remain are experiencing severe shortages of medicines and other medical supplies. It was also reported that 40 patients in a mental health institution died from starvation, cold and lack of medical care. There is a large need for insulin for diabetes patients in the Donetsk Oblast and many internally displaced persons arrive at their destinations with non-communicable diseases, mental health issues, trauma and scabies.
On top of the usual problems that face civilians in war zones, those who live in areas that are controlled by "terrorists" have not received their social benefit payments, unlike those who live in areas controlled by Ukraine. Approximately one million pensioners live in areas not controlled by Ukraine, however 900,000 of these pensioners are eligible to receive their pension payments in other areas, if they can get to them.
An interesting map from Open Democracy gives us a sense for why Ukraine is divided:
While Ukraine is generally considered to have a Russian east and a Ukrainian west, in most of the country there is a significant mixture, particularly in regions coloured in orange where people speak "surzhyk" which is a non-standard mixture of the two languages.
Solving the current situation in Ukraine is not going to be particularly simple. Internal problems aside, Vladimir Putin is convinced that Ukraine is part of Russia, a personal belief that will not disappear just because the West insists otherwise. Western countries also must respect the long history that connects Russia and Ukraine and that Ukraine needs to be free to enter into economic agreements that are its choice and for its own good.
In its original 1990 Declaration of State Sovereignty, Ukraine's Verkhovna Rada stated that:
"The Ukrainian SSR as a sovereign national state develops within the existing boundaries to exercise the Ukrainian nation's inalienable right to self-determination.
The Ukrainian SSR protects and defends the national statehood of the Ukrainian people.
Any violent actions against the national statehood of Ukraine undertaken by political parties, non-governmental organization, other groups or individuals shall be legally prosecuted.
Citizens of the Republic of all nationalities comprise the people of Ukraine.
The people of Ukraine are the sole source of state authority in the Republic.
The absolute authority of the people of Ukraine is exercised directly through the Republic's Constitution, as well as via people’s deputies elected to the Verkhovna Rada and local councils of the Ukrainian SSR.
Only the Verkhovna Rada of the Ukrainian SSR can represent all the people. No political party, non-governmental organization, other group or individual can represent all the people of Ukraine.
The Ukrainian SSR solemnly declares its intention of becoming a permanently neutral state that does not participate in military blocs and adheres to three nuclear free principles: to accept, to produce and to purchase no nuclear weapons."
Both the West and Russia need to acknowledge Ukraine's right to self-determination. Without that recognition, the suffering of Ukraine's civilian population will continue.