“The fighting is still going on today. Every day and every night, there’s something. When I think about my recently deceased grandmother I think: born in war, died in war.”—A humanitarian worker, conflict zone, August 2016.
In war, one learns to fear routine activities most people take for granted. Today, in eastern Ukraine, going to work or school, spending time outside with one’s family on a Sunday afternoon, or tending one’s garden are life-and-death gambles. CIVIC has documented the harm—death, injury, or destruction of property—civilians have suffered, and, most importantly, continue to suffer when caught in the crossfire of Ukraine’s ongoing conflict.
The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) began monitoring the crisis in 2014. According to its most recent report, since March 1, 2014, the conflict has claimed over 9,600 lives, injured more than 22,000 people. The Ministry of Social Policy of Ukraine says some 1.7 million have been displaced within and outside Ukraine.
While the contact line has barely moved and casualties and civilian displacement dropped in the months following the partial implementation of the Minsk Agreements, heavy fighting continues on a daily basis, and civilian casualties have been rapidly climbing again in recent months.
Amidst this conflict, CIVIC has just completed its first assessment in Ukraine. Civilians said their primary concerns were shelling from artillery, mortars and tanks; unexploded ordinance, mines and booby traps; and abuses by military forces, such as rape, looting and harassment. They wish for the fighting to be moved away from populated areas, for government assistance when their property is damaged or destroyed, for improved checkpoint crossing procedures, and help in resettling away from the conflict area.
CIVIC made several recommendations to all parties to the conflict—and their international partners—on immediate, practical steps to protect civilians caught between warring parties on the frontlines. These recommendations include abiding by the Minsk Agreements’ restrictions on heavy weapons; making efforts to effectively separate civilians from military forces; eliminating the use of mines and booby traps; and streamlining checkpoint procedures at contact line crossings. In addition, the Ukrainian government should adopt a government-wide policy on civilian protection like those established by the U.S. and NATO, and improve security forces’ training on international humanitarian law and civilian protection.
The government of Ukraine has made great strides in the protection of civilians since the conflict started in 2014. But more needs to be done. Into 2017, CIVIC will continue to encourage all parties to prioritize the protection of civilians, and to offer practical recommendations and expertise on ways to do so.