UNICEF: 1 million Ukrainian children in need of immediate assistance

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The UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) warned Friday that the “volatile conflict in eastern Ukraine” has left 1 million children in need of immediate assistance, almost double the number recorded this time last year.

“This is an invisible emergency, a crisis most of the world has forgotten,” said UNICEF’s representative in Ukraine, Giovanna Barberis, in a statement.

“Children in eastern Ukraine have been living under the constant threat of unpredictable fighting and shelling for the past three years,” she added.

The agency highlighted that the 200,000 girls and boys living within 15 km on each side of the “contact line,” the front line dividing government and rebel held areas, are particularly at risk.

According to UNICEF, 19,000 children are endangered by landmines and other unexploded ordinance in this area, while 12,000 live in zones which are shelled on a monthly basis. Thousands are also forced to seek refuge in improvised bomb shelters in light of ongoing military operations.

In light of the dire situation on the ground, the UN body said teachers, psychologists and parents have documented signs of severe psychological distress among children.

These mental repercussions are often displayed in the form of nightmares, aggressive behavior, social withdrawal and panic attacks triggered by loud noises.

“After three horrific years, children in eastern Ukraine urgently need lasting peace, so that their unnecessary suffering ends,” Barberis said.

Only 10 percent of UNICEF’s €30 million appeal for critical assistance in Ukraine has been funded so far.

Peace deal

President Vladimir Putin ordered Russian authorities on Saturday to temporarily recognise civil registration documents issued in separatist-held areas of eastern Ukraine, a decision strongly criticised by Ukraine’s president.

The decision will enable people from the conflict-hit region to travel, work or study in Russia.

According to Putin’s order, published on the Kremlin website, Russia will temporarily recognise identity documents, diplomas, birth and marriage certificates and vehicle registration plates issued in the eastern Ukraine regions of Donetsk and Luhansk.

The legislation will be in place until a “political settlement of the situation” in these regions based on the Minsk peace accords, the Kremlin said.

Ukrainian authorities sharply criticised Putin’s decision, saying Russia had violated the Minsk peace process.

“For me, this is another proof of Russian occupation as well as Russian violation of international law,” Ukraine’s President Petro Poroshenko told reporters in Munich, Germany.

“This step completely negates the Minsk process,” said Oleksander Turchynov, secretary of Ukraine’s National Security and Defence Council, which is headed by Poroshenko.

Fighting has recently escalated in the conflict between the Ukrainian government and Russian-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine, refocusing global attention on a simmering conflict that has strained relations between Russia and the West.

The February 2015 Minsk peace agreement only locked the two sides into a stalemate that has been broken periodically by sharp resurgences of fighting that Kiev and the Kremlin accuse each other of instigating.

The foreign ministers of Germany, France, Russia and Ukraine met on Saturday in Munich and agreed to use their influence to implement a ceasefire and the withdrawal of heavy weapons from Monday in eastern Ukraine.