U.S. public interest has shifted between Iraq and Ferguson, Mo. these past two weeks. There was an occasional opportunity to see news on the Gaza Strip, Ebola, or the upcoming U.S. primary elections.But, most refreshingly, Ukraine has once again appeared on the forefront. It’s about time.
It is understandable that the U.S. popular media has somewhat steered away from the separatist insurgency in Ukraine. The U.S. doesn’t have strong ties or deep-seated economic interests in the region, and the excitement over the tragic Malaysian airline shelling has mostly dwindled. But as the humanitarian crisis continues to build in Ukraine, American audiences should pay more attention to the plight of the hundreds of thousands of refugees flooding out of the embattled country.
It was reported Monday that a convoy transporting Ukrainian refugees from Khryaschuvate and Novosvitlivka was attacked. The Guardian reports that 15 bodies have been recovered so far, though dozens are believed dead. There is argument and confusion over whether the attacks were by pro-Russian separatist forces or the Ukrainian military itself, but most U.S. news sources seem to point fingers towards the separatist militia.
This recent report has done well to bring to light the disturbing humanitarian crisis that has been brewing in the eastern Ukraine. On Aug. 5, the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs released a statement on Ukraine that reported 117,000 Ukrainians as internally displaced people and 168,677 officially registered as refugees in Russia. In Donetsk and Luhansk, two separatist controlled eastern cities, the report outlined the deteriorating situation in regards to water and medical supplies, power outages, and residential destruction.
Furthermore, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees urged the Ukrainian government to create an improved registration system for IDP. UNHCR’s Vincent Cochetel told reporters, “The current lack of a systematic and uniform system hampers the coordination and implementation of relief efforts. This is also important as the Ukrainian authorities make their preparations for winter. Most of the current shelters in use are not suitable for the cold winter months.”
According to the U.N., the populations of fleeing Ukrainians have stated several reasons for fleeing from the east, including: insecurity; including the risk of being caught in crossfire; fears of persecution on political and ethnic grounds; fears of forced recruitment by both sides; fears of abduction, extortion and harassment; and destruction to homes and infrastructure. Eastern Ukraine is facing a truly terrifying situation that is imposing on civilian populations and literally pushing them out of their cities.
Shockingly, the Russian government has reported nearly 730,000 refugees as having flooded out of Ukraine this year, including the 168,677 seen by the Federal Migration Service. Though Moscow has been accused of inflating these numbers, it is frankly shocking to imagine Russia having the capabilities to quickly accommodate such large numbers in camps.
It seems that Russian President Vladimir Putin is attempting to convey moral humility, and the international community doesn’t want to buy it. He continues to dismiss rumors that Moscow is supplying the separatist militia, welcomes refugees into Russia with open arms, and on Aug. 14 sent a humanitarian convoy into Eastern Ukraine carrying 2,000 metric tons of aid. The 270 trucks of aid were stalled, however, as they were being fully checked by the International Committee of the Red Cross on the eastern border.
Last week, the BBC proposed this could be Putin’s “Trojan Horse.” With just a week to go before sitting down with Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, could Putin the Humanitarian be covering up a potential military intervention? News broke Wednesday that the Ukrainian military retook most of the rebel-held city of Luhansk and is now encircling the separatist stronghold of Donetsk. With Russian troops already built up on the border, we hope to see peace talks that will bring about a successful resolution, but fear a potential Russian intervention, which would plunge Ukraine into a spiraling humanitarian disaster.