2 Jul 2015

Head of Operations for Europe and Central Asia of the International Committee of the Red Cross Laurent Corbaz: Donbass situation is complicated

Head of Operations for Europe and Central Asia of the International Committee of the Red Cross Laurent Corbaz has given an interview with Interfax in which he speaks about the activity of the ICRC in eastern Ukraine and problems that ICRC officials face there, as well as interaction with Russian authorities on humanitarian aid and situation with Ukrainian refugees.

Question: The Ukrainian side earlier voiced proposals to make the ICRC involved in the work of the contact group for Ukraine and its subgroups. What is your attitude to the proposal?

Answer: We have systematically said that we were ready to participate in consultations as advisor, as experts, but not as members of the working groups. This is exactly the way we are going to continue. For an example we have being presenting ICRC potential activities with regard to prisoners exchange during the last session of the working group, but we did not participate in the discussion of the working groups offer.

Q.: Almost one year has passed since the ICRC started to work in eastern Ukraine. How do you assess results of the committee‘s work?

A.: We have been trying our best. You know, the circumstances are not so helpful and certainly there was a period of time during which we were seriously limited in our activities by the level of fighting. This was prior to signing the Minsk agreements on February 12, 2015. Since then it has gone a bit better but it is not perfect, far fr om it. There are still occasional fighting and there are still some administrative problems that are preventing us from having a more meaningful and important operation. On this thought that gradually I would say we have been pushing to deliver protection and assistance goodies to the people in need in the Donbass.

Q.: How bad is the humanitarian situation in eastern Ukraine now in your opinion?

A.: Fortunately, it is better now than it was in winter just because the weather is better. But of course the overall situation is not good. It is not good either on the government side of the frontline in Ukraine and it is not so good either in the areas of Russia wh ere people have been massively displaced. Overall, I would say that the situation in the Donbass is complicated because of sporadic social services, because of difficulties in provision of medical structures, because of difficulties in having regular supply to the most vulnerable segment of the population namely the elderly, children, and families [] by a single person.

Q.: Can you give a little bit more details about the main problems and difficulties in Eastern Ukraine now? What steps should be taken first of all to solve these problems?

A.: On June 18 we had a convoy going from Donetsk to Mariupol. This convoy was under fire. We do not know who was shooting who, but certainly this kind of security incidents just show how difficult it is to give humanitarian services in the area. Social services are a problem, access to water is going to be a problem, supply to hospital is going to be a problem, power supply is not working as good as it was before.

Q.: Does the ICRC have enough funds and human resources to fulfill its tasks in eastern Ukraine?

A.: I would say that right now the main problem is access rather than resources. We are confident that we will receive more funds to cover operations, but yes, you are right, at this stage we have a huge appeal for the situation in Ukraine, which comprises the majority of programs approaching Ukraine but also other programs in Russia namely in southwestern Russia, the Rostov area and Crimea and also Belarus. All these operations‘ budget up to the end of the year is not covered. However, we are optimistic that we can continue to work according to our wishes and the needs we want to watch.

Q.: Does the ICRC on this stage need additional funding to provide assistance to Ukrainian refugees?

A.: Yes, we will welcome any additional funding.

Q.: Have the Minsk agreements dated February 12, 2015 influenced the security level of ICRC employees in eastern Ukraine and their access to local residents there?

A.: Yes, I think the Minsk agreement made really a difference in a situation before and after February 12 and it is quite significant. The level of fight has much reduced compared to before the Minsk agreement signing. So that thing was a progress. However it is not perfect, but we have again a better access to areas which were previously inaccessible because of the fighting. We have a better and more regular access to areas under opposition controlled and government controlled in Ukraine. It has [become] better but not perfect. These activities are not completely seen, the ceasefire was regularly violated but overall access is a bit better. Our main worry today is to have a more regular and established mechanism so that we are allowed to transport goods from government controlled to opposition controlled areas in the Donbass and also to have a much better system in place that assist people wishing to cross this frontline in a more adequate manner.

Q.: How has the ICRC interacted with Russia on providing humanitarian aid to Donbas residents and Ukrainian refugees?

A.: We are today regularly in contact with the Russian authorities both in Moscow and in Geneva to exchange views on the ways humanitarian assistance is provided: either Russian humanitarian assistance is provided through various convoys or the ICRC assistance provided through it own means. We are notably in a close relationship between the Ministry for Emergency, Emercom, and Minister [Vladimir] Puchkov and our President [Peter] Maurer are regularly in contact on this issue.

Q.: What is the current situation in providing assistance to Ukrainian refugees in Russia and Belarus?

A.: There are thousands of people who have displaced themselves to Russia. Most of them have been assisted by the Russian mechanism namely through the local Red Cross or through the Ministry for Emergencies. However, we have noted that notably in the Rostov area and also in Crimea those displaced were in need of additional assistance because they were particularly vulnerable. There were families with a large number of children, families with a handicapped person, single women that needed household [] and families like that. So we has being assisting these families together with the local Red Cross, the Russian Red Cross, and have been assisting around 24,000 people recently. The thing is the same with the Belarusian Red Cross with approximately 6,000 persons.

Q.: How can you characterize the situation with the Ukrainian refuges in Russia and Belarus now?

A.: I think they are all well taken care of globally. Of course the main issue for them is to when and whether they can go back home which is not something that depends exclusively on the hosting authorities. I think that overall the welcoming attitude and the open-door policy have been helpful for most of them.