Conflict in Eastern Europe continues to take a toll on the most vulnerable, particularly in Ukraine. As border tension and winter weather impact those in country, the Red Cross is responding to their needs in a variety of ways.
"Along with the Ukrainian Red Cross Society and Red Cross Red Crescent Movement partners, we stand ready to step up our humanitarian response should the need arise," said Florence Gillette, the International Committee of the Red Cross head of delegation in Ukraine.
For its part, the ICRC is on the ground delivering urgent assistance — food, fuel for heating, medical supplies and support for housing — to those living close to the line of contact in eastern Ukraine. The combination of cold temperatures, COVID-19 and chronic uncertainty make basic needs a challenge.
Recently, U.S. troops deployed to neighboring countries. For those troops, the American Red Cross is sending specially-trained staff to support their emergency communication needs as part of the Red Cross Hero Care Network. This is a Congressionally-chartered program that connects service members and their families in times of need. Through this role, Red Crossers are on the ground to assist U.S. service members as the needs in Ukraine may evolve.
After eight years of conflict, the humanitarian needs remain large for hundreds of thousands of people living close to the line of contact in eastern Ukraine. Key needs are water, gas and electricity, as supplies are limited.
"The situation in eastern Ukraine is desperately challenging for so many people and families. The International Committee of the Red Cross is committed to working alongside them and helping in every way we can," said Gillette.
The current subzero temperatures are compounding the situation for many families.
"People are telling us their priority is getting through the winter safe and warm. Winter is harsh here, especially for older people," said Daniel Bunnskog, ICRC's deputy head of delegation.
"To help those in need, we provide a range of support, from insulating people's houses to improving their energy efficiency to providing fuel or cash assistance to heat the homes of 35,000 people on either side of the contact line."
Sofia Reznik is an ICRC psychologist. Her concern is the mental toll on people living through a time of heightened uncertainty.
"Considering the atmosphere of tension in and around Ukraine, many older residents have had memories of previous wars resurface. We're hearing a lot of people comparing the situations, with great sadness and a sense of hopelessness.
"Now, as they approach the end of their lives, they are again witnessing an uncertain and unstable world. They live in constant fear for their lives due to the ongoing conflict, Reznik says.
Throughout the conflict, the ICRC maintains dialogue with all sides to ensure that civilians and essential infrastructure are protected.
"Our message to all sides is clear: civilians and infrastructure ensuring the delivery of essential services to them must be spared, families must be able to see and support each other, and detainees must be treated humanely, in line with what international humanitarian law demands in all armed conflict," Gillette said.
In the last 12 months, the ICRC supported communities on both sides of the line of contact:
Around 35,000 people received solid fuel or cash assistance to help heat their houses this winter.
Around 37,000 people along the line of contact were supported with food and hygiene items. Over 50 hospitals and 60 primary healthcare facilities on both sides of the line of contact received medical equipment to cope with the COVID-19 pandemic and emergency preparedness. Water stations on either side of the line have been repaired, providing water to around 872,000 people. Over 22,000 people increased their knowledge of mine risks during educational sessions and thousands of mine warning signs were donated to mark hazardous areas. Around 5,600 households received support to repair their damaged homes.
About the American Red Cross:
The American Red Cross shelters, feeds and provides comfort to victims of disasters; supplies about 40% of the nation's blood; teaches skills that save lives; distributes international humanitarian aid; and supports veterans, military members and their families. The Red Cross is a nonprofit organization that depends on volunteers and the generosity of the American public to deliver its mission. For more information, please visit redcross.org or cruzrojaamericana.org, or visit us on Twitter at @RedCross.