Two years of hostilities in Ukraine have forced over 3.1 million people to depend on humanitarian assistance. The situation is particularly serious in the east of the country, where the Kyiv authorities and armed groups are vying for territorial control. Local communities fear for their safety and many people have lost their livelihoods. On top of this they have to cope with limited access to water and basic healthcare services.
Sporadic armed clashes also pose a threat to humanitarian organisations on the ground. Furthermore, humanitarian organisations face numerous bureaucratic hurdles on a daily basis, and in the east of the country they have to negotiate both with representatives of the national government and of armed groups to ensure that the aid can reach the people in need.
OCHA plays a vital role in this respect in Ukraine. The mandate of this UN agency is to coordinate at international level all humanitarian activities carried out by donor countries, multilateral agencies and NGOs in response to crises or natural disasters. The SDC has earmarked an overall contribution of CHF 3.6 million to OCHA in 2016.
Contacts with all parties to the conflict
"In the Ukrainian crisis context, gaining access to the victims can depend on the goodwill of a single individual. That is why OCHA seeks to maintain contact with all parties to the conflict," explains Mario Trutmann, an expert from the Swiss Humanitarian Aid Unit seconded to OCHA by the SDC. Mario Trutmann is working as a humanitarian chargé d'affaires in Donetsk, close to the 'contact line' that delimits the two sides' positions in eastern Ukraine.
"Negotiations are sometimes simply a matter of phoning a commander at one of the checkpoints to allow a convoy to cross over," notes Mario Trutmann. But it is not always as simple as that, as Trutmann explains: "The situation in Ukraine is extremely volatile, which means that you often have to renegotiate agreements over and over again to deliver aid."
What applies to access to aid for victims also applies to the accreditation of humanitarian organisations. OCHA is well aware of this problem, as in September 2015 it was ordered to stop its operations in Luhansk in eastern Ukraine despite assurances it had received from the self-proclaimed local authorities. It took intense negotiations for OCHA, and other UN agencies along with it, to be allowed to resume its operations in Luhansk.
Support for Swiss humanitarian convoys
In 2015, OCHA facilitated a number of actions to help Switzerland ensure safe passage for several of its humanitarian convoys across the 'contact line'. The lorries contracted by the SDC reached their destination without any difficulty on three separate occasions. Specifically, the convoys delivered clean drinking water to inhabitants of the Donetsk region.
Coordination and sharing information
In addition to serving as an intermediary between various civilian and military stakeholders in Ukraine, OCHA makes sure that the humanitarian actors present in the country can optimally coordinate their operations. Every two weeks OCHA holds a meeting in Kyiv which brings together representatives of the donor countries and of humanitarian organisations working on the ground. The substance of these discussions is then reported to the UN headquarters in New York.
OCHA also has a mandate to collect, compile and disseminate any useful information on identified needs and humanitarian operations, broken down by sector (water, housing, food, healthcare, protection for civilians) and by locality. In Ukraine, the agency is even able to provide comprehensive documentation on territories controlled by armed groups where a climate of secrecy prevails. All this information is freely accessible to anyone via a dedicated internet platform.