Ukraine: from war to humanitarianism!  

Leonivda Netchiboy, 49, reacts as she visits the grave of her husband, Pavlo, an enlisted Ukrainian soldier who was killed in an artillery strike near Kiev in March, in a cemetery in the village of Balabyne, on the outskirts of Zaporizhzhia, on April 30, 2022, the 66th day of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. (Photo par Ed JONES / AFP)

In Ukraine, the war is concentrated in the East and in the South and it has just taken a major turn with the supply of tanks, cannons, planes, helicopters and the massive commitment of the United States with an aid of 33 billion dollars, including 20 billion in military aid.

At the same time, Russia has just cut off gas to Poland and Bulgaria and other countries will probably follow, with serious economic and social consequences, especially in Europe. But, let’s not forget, the main victim is the Ukrainian population facing a war of high intensity of destruction!

Humanitarian aid in times of emergency is triggered either by war, disaster or epidemic. It is by better understanding the conflict in terms of the objectives and means of the actors, in its possible duration on a territory, in its intensity that we can also anticipate and organize the best possible relief.

In Ukraine, the fighting is concentrated in the East with Vladimir Putin’s stated objective of taking over the entire Donbass and the South of the country, where a large Russian-speaking population lives, to establish territorial continuity with the Crimea already annexed in February 2014. Is he thinking of going as far as Odessa, thus depriving Ukraine of any outlet to the Black Sea, which would be catastrophic for it. This will probably depend on the outcome of the battle in Donbass.

If one looks at a map, the battlefield in the east on an 800 km front resembles a crescent that Russia seeks to close at both ends to encircle the bulk of the Ukrainian army by taking Sievierodonetsk and Lyssychansk, which are at the heart of the ongoing battle and are resisting. The other axis of the Russian offensive starts from the south in the direction of Pokrovsk to close the trap.

It is a decisive battle that began on April 18 and explains the decisions taken on April 26 at the American base in Ramstein, Germany, where more than 40 countries met under the leadership of the United States. Without heavy equipment and regular supplies, the Ukrainian army would be overwhelmed. This is why, in this war of attrition, the Russian air force is now bombing railway stations, railway junctions and bridges in the west to slow down the flow of military equipment from Poland, 1500 km from the Donbass front!

The human consequences are catastrophic for Ukraine and its population, which risks seeing the entire Donbass region methodically destroyed, as in Marioupol. According to Colonel Michel Goya, a military expert, the Russians are lining up 2200 artillery pieces and massively bombarding the front lines, cities and towns which are all bastions of resistance. Even before the offensive, the Ukrainian authorities encouraged the population to evacuate and seek shelter further west.

The destruction caused by this great war continues to grow and accumulate in a very short time. That is why the United Nations launched a new appeal on April 25 to anticipate humanitarian needs until the end of August and beyond. The numbers are just staggering. There are currently 15.7 million Ukrainians in need of relief. There will be 24 million in the coming months, more than half of the total population. The bombings are methodically destroying buildings and houses, hospitals and schools and now all the logistical infrastructure for supplies, not to mention the destruction of economic activities and the loss of jobs and especially human lives.

According to the FAO and FEWS NET (Famine Early Warning Systems Network), government estimates anticipate a loss of 22 to 50% of the agricultural production of this great cereal country. President Volodymir Zelensky recently declared that Ukraine needed 7 billion dollars each month! This shows the considerable dimension of the aid needs in Ukraine in the space of two months!

Humanitarian aid continues to grow and must expand its deployment in the East. The World Food Program (WFP) and its Ukrainian and international partners have delivered food and cash aid to 2.4 million people since February 24. UNICEF and its partners have provided access to clean water for 400,000 people and medical assistance for 850,000 people. The Cash Working Group (CWG) and its partners have distributed $44.6 million to 314,000 people.

Three trucks filled with essential items for the Ukraine with the involvement and in partnership with Transports Leleu @SOLIDARITES INTERNAITONAL

International humanitarian organizations have been active since February and some of them were already present in the Donbass since 2014-2015. But they are faced with constraints of time, logistical capacity, distance and coordination with Ukrainian civilian actors. Moreover, they must adapt and completely revise their way of operating. This is a high-intensity war that they are not used to. Even in Bosnia-Herzegovina, I can personally attest to the fact that between 1992 and 1995, the intensity was much lower and the conditions of access to the populations in danger much easier, even in Sarajevo. Secondly, the destruction is extremely rapid and large-scale, and they are overwhelmed by the scale of the needs, which are increasing every day. Finally, Ukraine is not a failed state.

On the contrary, it is an organized state with effective public services and great skills and capacities. Humanitarian organizations arrived while Ukrainians were deploying relief supplies all over the territory since the beginning. In Mykolaïv, a place of intense fighting and a Ukrainian lock to Odessa, the town hall has organized a regional humanitarian staff in charge of coordinating aid to the population which has to face new challenges such as the destruction by the Russians of the pumping pipes in the Boug river which has deprived the population of drinking water for weeks.

In this context, humanitarians must first come to support the civilian structures that are operating. Their specific added value should be added to and reinforce the Ukrainian structures (municipalities, public services, associations). NGOs must demonstrate their added value, which is real.

They must also ask themselves the question of humanitarian needs in the part of Donbass controlled by the pro-Russian separatists and the possibility of accessing them when Russia seems to have taken charge of the aid on the spot and in the zones that have passed under their control.

Two months after the beginning of this war, coming from Moscow where he had met Vladimir Putin, the UN Secretary General, Antonio Guterres, went to Kiev where he declared (link) “I also know that words of solidarity are not enough. I am here to focus on the needs on the ground and to intensify operations. While meeting with President Volodymyr Zelensky, two Russian cruise missiles were fired at Kiev. 

Secretary-General António Guterres (center) visits the residential areas of Irpin, Kyiv Oblast, Ukraine. @UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe

The first hybrid war. This war uses all possible means well beyond the battlefield. From multiple economic sanctions, the exclusion of Russia from certain international organizations, cyberwarfare, information warfare and diplomacy, the suppression of sports events to the banning of artists, conductors, cultural events that border on unnecessary, humiliating and counterproductive discrimination.

The International Monetary Fund’s new Panorama on Growth and its chief economist, Pierre-Olivier Gourinchas, sound the alarm. Under the effect of the war in Ukraine and soaring inflation, the IMF anticipates “a collapse of Ukrainian GDP by 35%”. It also estimates that “the sanctions will plunge Russia into recession (- 8.5%).

But this crisis will hit the whole world with a strong revision of GDP growth (production of wealth by country) with expected declines in growth of 1% (France) to 2.5% (Germany). Inflation is revised upwards with an average of 5.7% for advanced countries and 8.7% for the emerging and developing world. Soaring grain prices (wheat, corn, barley and staple foods) will have a strong impact in North Africa and the Middle East in particular. To the point that Kristalina Georgieva, Managing Director of the IMF, warns of food insecurity and the need for international coordination to address it.

A geopolitical tsunami.

The Ukrainian Minister of Regional Development, Oleksiy Chernyshov, told the daily Le Figaro (20.4.2022) that “14,000 residential buildings have been reduced to ruins, 1,100 schools damaged and more than 400 infrastructures (bridges, roads, railroads…) destroyed. That was before the new offensive on the Donbass!

We are now engaged in an escalation. How far will it go? Where is the red line of cobelligerence? Will the Russians open new fronts, which are not lacking, from Moldova to Georgia? Could there be a risk of a tactical nuclear demonstration? Not to mention that this is the first time a war has been fought in a country with 13 nuclear power plants! Although the diplomatic route is no longer a priority in the immediate future with the offensive on the Donbass, this is undoubtedly the meaning of President Macron’s two-hour telephone conversation with President Putin on May 3. What decision could Vladimir announce on May 9, the day of the victory over the Third Reich?

During his visit to Kiev, Antonio Guterres also said that Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine was a violation of the territorial integrity of Ukraine and the UN Charter. He added that the Security Council had failed to live up to its primary objective of preventing or ending the war. This is an understatement when Russia, one of the 5 permanent members of the UN Security Council, initiated this war with the benevolence of another member, China. After this failure, how will the UN come out of this war?

War in Eastern Ukraine, Krasnohorivka @Tatyana Tkachuk

We must remember and emphasize that this is the first inter-state war in Europe since 1945. We can think that after this great geopolitical shift, Europe and the world will never be like before. The seismic impact of this war is still in its infancy. How will the Merkel era be judged in the future? What will be the consequences of German rearmament? The European Union itself will be affected. It is the philosopher Paul Thibaud, former director of the magazine “Esprit”, a moderate mind, who writes in the newspaper Le Monde (23-24.2.2022): “…the new continental situation must be matched by a new configuration of the European Union, something like the “federation of nation-states” evoked by Jacques Delors”.

All the more so since we believe that a strategic hiatus is emerging between a Europe that supports Ukrainian independence in the face of Russia, which will always remain a neighbouring country for us, and the United States, which wants to defeat Russia and thus weaken China. The appeal of the President of the Republic, Emmanuel Macron, to the Russian President, Vladimir Putin, is undoubtedly part of this strategic perspective.

While waiting for the next step, where everything is possible, including the worst, a massive humanitarian solidarity must be our collective response to the human suffering in Ukraine, without forgetting the International Humanitarian Law (IHL) and the war crimes committed in Boutcha, which could be reproduced elsewhere in this war that is likely to last.  

Alain Boinet.  

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What to learn from the first European Humanitarian Forum ?

Kevin Goldberg at the European Humanitarian Forum in March 2022 @European Union (Yasmina et Djamel Besseghir, 2022)

Accompanied by several colleagues from Solidarités International, I had the pleasure of participating in the European Humanitarian Forum which was held in a hybrid format in Brussels and online, from March 21 to 23. This first European forum dedicated to the sector and its challenges was held in a context of acute humanitarian crisis, with the war in Ukraine and its millions of displaced people adding a special tone to the exchanges that brought together several hundred participants.

Supported by the French Presidency of the Council of the European Union (FPEU) and the European Commission’s Directorate General for Civil Protection and European Humanitarian Aid Operations (DG ECHO), the forum aimed to discuss the main issues at stake in the evolution of European humanitarian aid as recently expressed by the Commission in its latest communication (link), and the European counterpart of the National Humanitarian Conferences (CNH) organized by the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs and NGOs based in France since 2011. In fact, several of the central themes of the last CNH in December 2020 were addressed: the protection of humanitarian workers, the impact of sanctions regimes and counter-terrorism measures on our ability to implement our actions in the field, the question of the humanitarian-development-peace nexus and the development of structuring funding, etc.

European Humanitarian Forum in March 2022 @European Union (Yasmina et Djamel Besseghir, 2022)

A conventional but still useful exercise

After two years of long-distance meetings, it was obvious that the participants who met in Brussels were enjoying the renewed pleasure of informal exchanges, official dinners and corridor discussions, all in the exceptional setting of the Palais des Beaux-Arts in Brussels. The format of the forum sessions, which was very structured, unfortunately left little room for real debate between speakers and spontaneous questions from the audience. But this moment of reunion was above all an opportunity to recall the main concerns that we share within the sector: the ever-widening gap between the overall amount of humanitarian aid made available by too few donors and the needs of the 300 million people in need of assistance, the burning issue of violations of International Humanitarian Law and the shrinking space left to us to help populations, the difficulty of maintaining a dialogue with non-state armed groups within the increasingly constrained framework of national and international anti-terrorism laws, etc.

Among the many topics discussed, a few points should be highlighted. Everyone was able to see the importance given to the issues of localization of aid, which will soon be the subject of a new consultation by the European Commission. Let us hope that the angle taken by DG ECHO to introduce this subject, i.e. the promotion of mutually beneficial partnerships between local actors and international NGOs, will find its rightful place in the conclusions of this work. Efforts towards greater efficiency and the digital transition in the field of humanitarian logistics were also highlighted, which is also an important area of work for Solidarités International. On the issue of climate change, the Forum led to the publication of a “Declaration by humanitarian aid donors on climate and the environment”, endorsed by the 27 Member States of the European Union and the Commission. We have publicly welcomed this (link), while inviting donors to translate their support in principle for disaster prevention, preparedness, anticipation and response into strong actions.

A crisis in Ukraine on everyone’s mind

Although it was initially planned that the forum would only address cross-cutting issues without a specific geographical focus, a session was finally dedicated to the Ukrainian crisis. This session brought together many actors, such as Amin Awad, UN Coordinator in Ukraine, Hans Das, who is in charge of emergency management at DG ECHO, and Maksym Dotsenko, Director General of the Ukrainian Red Cross. For my part, I gave my testimony of the actions that Solidarités International has been carrying out in Ukraine since the end of February in partnership with many local actors. At the same time, throughout the forum, it was repeated that it is absolutely necessary to avoid that the humanitarian response to the Ukrainian crisis is done at the expense of other crises, in a context of skyrocketing needs and at a time when the conflict is already causing significant increases in food prices around the world.

Kevin Goldberg at the round table dedicated to Ukraine bringing the testimony of SOLIDARITÉS INTERNATIONAL on the situation there and addressing the issue of cooperation between different aid actors

Finally, the Ukrainian context is undoubtedly the reason for the political importance given to this first European forum. Let us judge: 15 foreign ministers from different member states took part in the exchanges, the United Nations was represented by the heads of several major UN agencies, Commissioner Janez Lenarčič spoke on several occasions, and the two main hosts Ursula Von Der Leyen and Emmanuel Macron both gave their respective testimonies via a video. With such a large audience, one can only regret that the forum was not the occasion for more concrete political commitments, beyond the affirmation of a “team Europe” claiming to be a true global “humanitarian power” due to its leading role as a donor, which is certainly an oxymoron and poorly masks the persistent disparity in the level of contribution of the various member states to aid funding.

However, we can congratulate the organizers on the success of this first edition, and we are delighted that the Commission has already announced a renewal of this initiative, with a second edition to be held under the Swedish presidency of the Council of the European Union, in March 2023.

Who is Kevin Goldberg ? 

Kevin Goldberg began his career working with parliamentarians and local elected officials in Brussels and Paris. In 2013, he joined the cabinet of the Chairman of the Board of GROUPE SOS, the first European social enterprise, as head of development and partnerships. In 2017, he took part in the creation of an International Action sector bringing together the NGOs affiliated with the GROUPE SOS, and then became its general manager. At the same time, he is in charge of the management of PULSE, an association specialized in supporting the creation of social enterprises in France and abroad. In January 2021, Kevin Goldberg joined the humanitarian NGO SOLIDARITÉS INTERNATIONAL as Executive Director. Kevin is a graduate of Sciences Po Grenoble, the College of Europe and the University of Paris Dauphine.