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Donbass: between a pandemic and war


By E. Fritz and F. Martin

Covid-19 is a global crisis, but its impact on war zones will be extremely tragic. Nowhere is this more evident than in the conflict-affected region of Donbass in eastern Ukraine. The conflict-affected population in this region, a disproportionately large number of whom are elderly, is at an excessive risk of contracting the virus.
To exacerbate this problem, the pandemic containment strategy by the Ukrainian government has led to the closure of checkpoints along the line of contact. Now it is more difficult for people in eastern Ukraine than ever to return home, see their families and gain access to basic social programs. Although the picture remains opaque due to a lack of information about both the spread of the virus and the painful effects of containment policies, it is clear that the country is suffering enormous losses in both directions.
In recent years, Ukrainians are increasingly dependent on checkpoints along the line of contact. More recently, within one month, there were 1.5 million crossings. Standing in line at checkpoints has become a fact of life for those who live in one of two areas torn in half by conflict. Consequently, measures to contain the coronavirus have caused serious damage to the people there. In January 2020, 50% of people crossing the contact line did this to receive a pension or some other type of state aid; almost 30% withdrew cash from a bank; and almost 20% visited a family. In a region where 30% of those in need are older people, the consequences of ending access to pensions, cash, or the family may be irreversible.
Currently, around 300,000 older people do not have access to their pensions. Some people cannot withdraw the cash needed to pay bills. Families cannot check on their elderly or sick relatives. It is clear that the population of eastern Ukraine will again be among those who suffer the most, whether from the virus itself or from policies aimed at containing it.

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