Why Ukraine Matters: At the Frontline of Europe’s Forgotten War

June 6, 2017 • Articles • Views: 197

Text by Serhiy Burnus, Ukrainian events in London

Edited by Darya Malyutina

Photos from the British Ukrainian Aid Facebook page

On April 19, 2017 the presentation was given by Dr. Rainer-Elk Anders, an academic who since the beginning of the conflict in 2014 has frequently traveled to Ukraine as part of his research, in order to interview those most affected by the conflict and to gather accounts of their experiences.

The presentation was divided into three sections. Section one was concerned with the impact of the conflict on civilians, particularly focusing on children as those who are often most affected by the military actions. Section two detailed the impact the conflict has had on the soldiers at the frontline. Finally, the presentation concluded by answering the questions ‘why Ukraine matters’ and what can be done to help solve the crisis.

The impact of the conflict on civilians and children

Dr. Rainer-Elk Anders started by explaining that the conflict is limited to a ‘small’ section in the East of Ukraine; however, to those affected by the conflict this is of little significance. The developments in Donbas have impacted the lives of an estimated 4.4 million people (out of a total population of the country of 45 million), with 3.8 million of those requiring humanitarian aid. Significantly, it is estimated that over 70% of those in humanitarian need are the elderly, women, and children, many of whom are IDPs (internally displaced persons).

Anders then proceeded to recount his experiences of conducting field research in the affected areas of Ukraine, as well as the experiences of those the met. He explained that it were the children who were often affected by the conflict most seriously. In some regions, the schooling infrastructure has been so damaged or destroyed that hospitals were acting as makeshift schools, accommodating up to 450 students while lacking even the most basic of equipment such as pens, paper, and textbooks. Many children were covering distances up to seven kilometres to attend school, often travelling through dangerous conditions on unsafe roads and through active warzones. Additionally, 740, or one in five, schools in the affected areas have been ruined or seriously damaged, leaving 30% of the children in those areas without access to basic education.

Additionally, the speaker detailed how many towns and villages have been left without the most basic amenities as a result of the conflict, lacking access to gas or electricity, medical services, and even building materials.

Casualties

Anders described the casualties of the conflict, stressing once again that children were often the ones affected in the worst ways. 9,700 people have been killed during the conflict thus far and some 22,600 injured, approximately 3,000 of whom are children. Furthermore, an estimated 1,400 children have been orphaned because of the conflict and more than 200,000 displaced, either internally or externally.  Anders also noted that the conflict has been having a significant impact on the mental health of many of the affected children and young people. He pointed out that the rates of suicide and mental illness among children in regions most impacted by the conflict are significantly higher than normal. For example, in Donetsk a staggering 25% of children reported high levels of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Moreover, it is estimated that 200,000 children live within 15 km of frontline fighting and are consistently subject to artillery strikes and shelling.

Impact on soldiers

Anders then proceeded to describe the impact of the conflict on those who are fighting at the frontline. He displayed photographs of the makeshift and inadequate accommodation many soldiers were living in. Accommodation was often rented privately, as soldiers were not provided with any housing and were lacking basic items such as food, mattresses and pillows, and power generators. Additionally, much of the living premises described and displayed were unsanitary and prone to flooding.

Why Ukraine matters and recommendations

Anders stated that the conflict in Ukraine is a ‘social catastrophe’ facing Europe, and that the local European communities have a moral responsibility to uphold basic democratic values in Ukraine. He compared the situation to that of the Bosnian genocide, noting that war crimes and crimes against humanity are currently taking place in Ukraine and the international community must react to prevent further suffering.

From a political perspective, the researcher viewed Ukraine as a test of aggressive Russian foreign policy – going as far as to describe it as a ‘gun range’ for Russia’s soldiers. Therefore, Britain, Europe, and NATO must act to be seen strong against Russia, he underlined. Strong public support must be shown towards the government of Ukraine, as well as both diplomatic and financial aid has to be provided to support the country’s democratically elected government.

With respect to solutions, Anders noted that Eastern Ukraine must be returned to the Ukraine government – noting that, in his view, the conflict in this region is not beneficial for Russia anyway. Regarding Crimea, he suggested the possibility of a joint or shared governance of the region between Russia and Ukraine; however, he did accept that it is extremely unlikely that Putin and Russia would agree to this.

One of the final ideas of the discussion was that, given the recent US strike in Syria, the situation in Ukraine could become more complicated. It was suggested that the US President Donald Trump’s decision to drop missiles on Syria within 48 hours of the chemical attack allegedly carried out by the Assad regime demonstrates his unpredictability which might have far-reaching consequences in respect to Russia’s foreign policy and the situation in Ukraine.

This event was organised by the UK Charity British Ukrainian Aid. Find out more about the organisation’s activities on their website.

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