The humanitarian crisis unfolding in Ukrainian cities

As Russian troops continue their assault on Ukraine, the humanitarian situation on the ground, especially in besieged population centers like Mariupol, is becoming increasingly serious. Ceasefire violations mean there is no safe corridor for evacuations in many areas, while attacks on critical infrastructure have cut heat, electricity and water to some places. Essential supplies are also becoming dangerously scarce.

Such shortages, as the war enters its third week, reflect an emerging humanitarian crisis – one that may well worsen for Ukrainians who now have little chance of escaping already besieged cities.

The strategies behind the crisis, however, are seen as a common element of Russian siege warfare tactics, according to Rita Konaev, associate director of analysis at Georgetown University’s Center for Security and Emerging Technologies, who are likely to spread as the war moves into a new stage.

Already, the constant bombardment of cities is damaging civilian infrastructure, such as the maternity hospital in Mariupol which was hit this week, killing three people. In Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second city, a retirement home for people with disabilities was reportedly bombed on Friday.

Localized damage can have city-wide repercussions. According to Konaev, many cities depend on a “rather fragile network system of vital and indispensable public services. If you damage a pipe, it can damage access to water or heating for thousands of people. »

And growing power cuts pose a growing threat: In Mariupol, a strategic port city in southern Ukraine, residents are without heat, water and electricity. for more than a week due to Russian bombing.

On Friday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy announced a new attempt to bring essential humanitarian aid to the city. “Russian troops did not let our help into the city and continue to torture our people, our residents of Mariupol,” he said. “We will try again.”

Dispatches from Mariupol, however, capture a city already in crisis.

“All the shops were looted five or four days ago,” said Sasha Volkov, deputy head of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) in Mariupol, in a video posted on Twitter. “People report varying medical needs, especially for diabetes and cancer patients. But there’s no way to find him in the city anymore.

The audio posted by the Mariupol aid group Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) is equally dire.

“There is no clean water or medicine for over a week, maybe even 10 days, without clean water or medicine, a local aid worker says in the recording. “There is no place where we can find food, or even [drinkable] the water.”

On Wednesday, Mariupol Deputy Mayor Serhiy Orlov told reporters at a panel discussion on Wednesday that the water crisis in Mariupol was so severe that a 6-year-old child died of dehydration. This claim, however, has not been independently verified.

According to MSF staff, residents of Mariupol have started looking for underground water sources and drinking it after boiling it over a wood fire, as there is no electricity or fuel for cooking.

Lack of heating is also a major problem for the city’s beleaguered residents: Nighttime temperatures there have consistently fallen below freezing, according to the AP.

So far, according to Orlov, aerial bombardments in Mariupol caused the majority of civilian casualties there. As Konaev told Vox earlier this month, it’s all part of a dark strategy.

“The Russian approach to urban warfare puts a lot of emphasis on priming and setting the stage for any kind of ground operation with this aerial destruction,” she said. “It’s to break morale, it’s to cause major damage to cities infrastructure, it’s to cause high levels of city displacement.”

On Wednesday, Orlov called the bombing a war crime.

“Putin wants to get the city regardless of casualties and damage,” he said. “The city is taken back to medieval times by the Russians. People can only cook on the fire, and mothers and newborns do not receive food. This is genocide against Ukraines.”

Civilians run out of supplies – but cannot escape besieged cities

Although the humanitarian situation in Mariupol is dire, it is by no means the only Ukrainian city to suffer from Russia’s brutal urban warfare tactics.

Kharkiv, a city in northeastern Ukraine a few miles from the Russian border, has been subjected to constant aerial bombardment since the start of the war, which Mayor Ihor Terekhov said made 400 residential buildings uninhabitable. the city. Critical infrastructure, such as water supply and heating installations serving Kharkiv’s 1.4 million residents, was also damaged.

While evacuations are underway, Terekhov said, it is extremely dangerous due to the shelling.

Already more than 2.5 million people fled Ukraine, creating the biggest refugee crisis in Europe since World War II.

Kharkiv is considered an important Russian target due to its geographical proximity to Russia, as well as a large Russian-speaking population and its history as the USSR-dominated capital of the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic in the 1980s. 1910 and 1920, when Ukraine was fighting for independence from the Russian Empire and its successor state.

The towns of Sumy and Trostyanets in northeastern Ukraine near the Russian border are both facing severe shortages of food and medicine. “We need to establish an external supply of aid,” Sumy Mayor Oleksandr Lyssenko said at the same roundtable on Wednesday.

“There is hardly any inventory left in the city,” he said, adding that the city had either given up or sold its grocery stores, and that there was a critical shortage of insulin and of antibiotics. Trostyanets Mayor Yuri Bova told reporters that while the hospital was functioning, it lacked supplies. “We have to bring medicine and food,” he said.

Mariupol faces similar shortages: Orlov said his city’s most critical needs are medicine – especially insulin – warm clothing and fuel. “I wouldn’t have imagined this in my worst nightmare,” he said, describing the situation on the pitch. “Let me clarify…we have the total destruction of the city of Mariupol.”

However, Russian troops have surrounded both Mariupol and Trostyanets and are approaching Sumy, making it almost impossible to get supplies – and making humanitarian evacuation extremely dangerous. Lyssenko said that as people tried to leave Sumy through so-called “green” corridors, “there were times when tanks fired at civilian vehicles trying to leave.”

Lyssenko’s specific claim has not been independently verified, but civilian casualties among evacuees are well documented; A family of three were killed by a Russian shell near Kiev earlier this month as they attempted to evacuate, with a volunteer helping the family.

The drug shortage has also reached Kiev, according to a Washington Post report. Long lines at pharmacies for essential drugs like insulin – and even aspirin – are the norm as shipments from out of town have been halted due to the advancing coronavirus. Russian army over the city.

“It’s a last mile problem, where you have to bring your supplies into the open conflict zone,” Carla Melki, emergency coordinator for MSF in Odessa, told The Post. “We know where the needs are; that’s how to reach them.

Ad hoc groups of volunteers have coordinated to supply medicines and call pharmacies to check supplies for those who cannot queue and wait, and the ICRC has delivered supplies of insulin to Odessa and Dnipro, while that the Ukrainian government said it has sent more than 440 tons of medical supplies to cities since the start of the war, reports the Post.

Even if humanitarian aid can reach besieged towns and ceasefires allow safe evacuations – which is by no means a sure thing – the desperation Ukrainian towns are experiencing at the moment, less three weeks into the war portends further suffering for civilians in Ukraine.

As Orlov noted, Russian airstrikes are currently the leading cause of injury and death among civilians. The situation in Mariupol shows that second-order crises caused by a Russian siege can be just as catastrophic, creating a stark choice for many Ukrainians: stay and risk death from starvation or disease, or try to flee and risk death. same fate by Russia. artillery.

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