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A refugee boy who fled conflict from neighboring Ukraine cries at the railway station after arriving to Zahony, Hungary Image Credit: AP

The conflict in Ukraine has been going on for almost three months, and there is no hope in sight for an early end. The international community is primarily occupied discussing the effectiveness of economic sanctions against Russia, the future of oil and gas import, the possibility of a nuclear war, and the Nato expansion in the Nordics.

The West is seeing the prolongation of the conflict in Ukraine as a strategic victory and deterrent toward Russia engaging in similar military operations elsewhere. While the global media’s attention is focused on the Ukraine war, it has forgotten about Ukrainians and their sufferings.

Millions of ordinary Ukrainians face a severe humanitarian crisis, and thousands of civilians have lost their lives, but there is very little global effort to bring a ceasefire. Instead, more and more arms are being dispatched to prolong the war and intensify the armed conflict.

While the violence is intensifying and the fiercest fighting is taking place in Eastern Ukraine, there is no peace process in place that can generate hope of a military conflict ending soon and bring relief to millions of Ukrainians facing a devastating humanitarian crisis.

Six million refugees

In almost three months of armed conflict in Ukraine, more than six million Ukrainians have become refugees, most fleeing to neighbouring Poland, Romania, Russia, Hungary, Moldova, and Slovakia. More than eight million Ukrainians have been internally displaced; most are elderly, women, and children.

The conflict has already resulted in at least 7,500 confirmed civilian casualties, including 3,500 deaths. At present, 16 million civilian population in Ukraine, nearly 40% of the country’s total population, needs humanitarian assistance.

While Ukraine is witnessing the most extensive human displacement globally, nearly 13 million Ukrainians are estimated to be trapped in conflict-affected areas and unable to move out due to deteriorating security situations, lack of financial resources, or destruction of escape routes.

Those stranded and unable to escape do not have sufficient access to food, water, and medicines. The lack of safe humanitarian access has also hindered humanitarian agencies’ delivery of life-saving aid to hard-hit areas.

Ukraine is known as the breadbasket of Europe. The three-month-long war has already led to an increase in global food prices, which is being widely talked about. However, the food availability situation has also become highly precarious for the Ukrainians themselves.

Severe food shortages

More than a month ago, the Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) warned of food shortages in 40 per cent of its surveyed areas in Ukraine. The conflict has also severely disrupted the production of vegetables and food grains of thousands of smallholder farmers, who have decided not to flee.

Food and water are essentials for human survival. In Ukraine, more than six million people are struggling these days to access safe drinking water. The Eastern part of Ukraine has been most water insecure due to war, and water infrastructures have been often deliberately being targeted by warring parties.

Despite the UN Security Council Resolution 2573 of last year obligating all parties in an armed conflict to protect civilians and civilian infrastructures, the war in Ukraine is witnessing civilian water and sanitation facilities being regularly attacked.

The lack of access to safe water has brought serious risks to the health and well-being of Ukrainians. The UNICEF has already warned that the children in conflict zones of Ukraine are 20 times more likely to die due to waterborne diseases than from the direct violence due to war.

The water and food shortages and large-scale displacement are becoming worse, resulting in a burgeoning humanitarian crisis as the war in Ukraine will soon enter its fourth month.

The destruction of power plants and critical power transmission infrastructures in the conflict has resulted in the loss of electricity for millions of Ukrainians. Moreover, the continuing war has also devastated hundreds of hospitals and medical facilities in Ukraine.

In the first 42 days of the war, the WHO verified more than 100 attacks on health facilities in the country. The Ukrainian health system was already fragile due to Covid-19, and the war has made it much worse.

The damages to medical facilities and services directly impact the civilian population’s access to essential health services, and the bombing of hospitals has also resulted in many deaths of patients.

The ongoing human suffering in Ukraine is on a scale that Europe has not seen in recent decades. Whoever might be winning the war in Ukraine or gaining the strategic advantage in global power politics, there is no doubt that the humanitarian situation is alarmingly deteriorating in the war-torn country.

All parties must adhere to international humanitarian law and spare the civilian population and critical infrastructures from attacks.

Instead of calculating their strategic gains from this conflict, the global powers should prioritise the security of Ukrainians and do whatever possible to bring an immediate ceasefire, end the senseless violence, and avoid further human suffering.