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2015 Agreement to Bring Peace to Ukraine’s East Remains Unimplemented

Ursula Mueller, the U.N.'s deputy humanitarian chief, said the conflict is causing severe humanitarian problems.

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FILE - A Russia-backed rebel guards the position after sunset near Donetsk, eastern Ukraine, Aug. 2, 2015. Hostilities in eastern Ukraine have abated after February's peace agreement, but the truce has been frequently violated. VOA

A 2015 agreement to bring peace to Ukraine’s volatile east remains largely unimplemented and civilians are paying the highest price, with more than 3,300 killed and 3.5 million needing humanitarian aid this year, U.N. officials said Tuesday.

Russia’s annexation of the Crimean Peninsula in early 2014 and support for separatist rebels in the east triggered a conflict with Ukrainian government forces that the U.N. says has also injured up to 9,000 civilians and displaced 1.5 million people.

Assistant Secretary-General Miroslav Jenca told the Security Council that negotiations “appear to have lost momentum,” with Russia and Ukraine unable or unwilling to agree on key steps forward or too distracted to focus on implementing the 2015 agreement.

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Russia’s U.N. Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia addresses the United Nations Security Council, at U.N. headquarters, Sept. 17, 2018. VOA

Russian Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia and Ukrainian Ambassador Volodymyr Yelchenko blamed each other for the failure to implement the agreement signed in the Belarus capital, Minsk.

Jenca, who is in charge of European affairs, stressed that the conflict in eastern Ukraine is not dormant. “It is a conflict in the heart of Europe which continues to claim victims,” he said.

Jenca said the main parties have committed to over a dozen cease-fires since the start of the conflict, but “each one was regrettably, short-lived.”

The Organization for Security and Cooperation’s monitoring mission in Ukraine reports that the military positions of both sides are coming closer to each other in the “gray areas” near the so-called “contact line,” he said. “The use of heavy weapons and their deployment in the proximity of the contact line is a reality.”

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Assistant Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Deputy Emergency Relief Coordinator Ursula Mueller speaks during a Security Council meeting on the situation in Syria, April 25, 2018, at United Nations headquarters. VOA

Ursula Mueller, the U.N.’s deputy humanitarian chief, said the conflict is causing severe humanitarian problems, noting that many of the 3.5 million people who need aid are elderly, women and children.

“Many are struggling to access schools, hospitals and other essential services,” she said. “Many have lost their jobs, homes, family members and friends.”

Mueller said the U.N. has appealed for $162 million this year to aid 2.3 million people.

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Ertugrul Apakan, Chief Monitor of the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission to Ukraine, addresses a news conference at OSCE’s headquarters in Vienna, Feb. 5, 2015. VOA

Ertugrul Apakan, chief of the OSCE monitoring mission in Ukraine, told the council by video that many people use checkpoints in eastern Donetsk and Luhansk to receive pensions and see families separated by the conflict. Since December, he said, there have been “14 cases of people who died from natural causes while waiting at the checkpoints.”

Mueller said most of those who died this year were elderly. People wait for several hours in freezing temperatures to cross the contact line, and she urged better conditions and additional crossing points, especially in Luhansk where there is only one.

Before the meeting, eight former and current European Union members of the Security Council issued a joint statement urging humanitarian access to areas not under Ukrainian government control.

They called on Russia “to immediately stop fueling the conflict by providing financial and military support” to the separatists and reiterated their opposition to Moscow’s annexation of Crimea. Nonetheless, they said, they “remain convinced that a peaceful resolution of the conflict is possible.”

Nebenzia said Russia called the council meeting to discuss implementation of the 2015 agreement, declaring that the situation in southeastern Ukraine “remains explosive” with positions now “too close to each other at some locations.” He said Ukraine “comprehensively and consciously ignores and sabotages the Minsk agreements and our Western partners cover up for all of its unlawful acts.”

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Ukrainian Ambassador the the United Nations Volodymyr Yelchenko speaks during a security council meeting about the escalating tensions between the Ukraine and Russia at United Nations headquarters, Nov. 26, 2018. VOA

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Ukraine’s Yelchenko countered that “it is only Russia and its ongoing military activity in the occupied territories of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions of Ukraine as well as in Crimea that constitute for now an unsurmountable obstacle for the peaceful resolution of the conflict.” (VOA)

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Ukraine Fears Mariupol City would be Next to Fall to Russian-Backed Rebel Forces

Moscow's detention of two dozen Ukrainian sailors seized in a naval clash just offshore in November underlines the continued threat

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The Illich Iron & Steel Works factory in Mariupol, eastern Ukraine, Nov. 30, 2018. VOA

At the height of the conflict in 2014, the people of Mariupol, Ukraine, feared their city would be the next to fall to Russian-backed rebel forces.

The threat of annexation by Moscow has subsided for now. But the front line lies just six kilometers (3.7 miles) to the east — and the conflict continues to have a big impact on everyday life in the city.

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A Ukrainian serviceman stands on board a coast guard ship in the Sea of Azov port of Mariupol, eastern Ukraine, Dec. 3, 2018. VOA

Moscow’s detention of two dozen Ukrainian sailors seized in a naval clash just offshore in November underlines the continued threat.

Faced with such challenges, how do the people of Mariupol view Sunday’s presidential election? And who holds the key to ending the conflict? Amid the election campaigns, frustration and exhaustion are palpable.

“I like any of the candidates, but not the one who is in power now. We need more authority for us to have peace, for our economy to grow, for us to be prosperous,” Mariupol resident Tatyana told VOA.

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Supporters attend a campaign rally of Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko in the western city of Lviv on March 28, 2019, ahead of the presidential election on March 31. VOA

Aleksandr Sidorov, a soldier on leave from the front line, believes the next president can do little about the war with Russia. He’s focused on domestic issues.

“The main issue for me is for all the corrupt people to be imprisoned,” he said.

Young mother Alina Arabadzhi plans to vote for comedian-turned-presidential candidate Volodymyr Zelensky.

“Why Zelensky? Because it is a new face. Because he has no vested interests. He hasn’t been in politics a single day,” she said.

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FILE – Volodymyr Zelenskiy, a Ukrainian comic actor, is a candidate in the upcoming presidential election. VOA

The war is having a huge effect on the local economy. Mariupol used to be an export hub for the Donbas region, Ukraine’s former industrial powerhouse. Most of that region is now controlled by Russian-backed separatists and has been all but cut off.

Two giant steel plants still dominate Mariupol’s skyline, bringing prosperity but also choking pollution. The products are shipped around the world from the nearby port. However, since its forceful seizure of Crimea in 2014, Russia controls shipping access to the Sea of Azov via the Kerch Strait — effectively giving it a stranglehold on a key artery of Mariupol’s economy.

The director of the port, Aleksandr Aleksandrovich, said he is losing over $7.5 million a year in business.

“Starting in April 2018, Russia started to search all the ships which enter the Azov Sea to reach Ukrainian ports. Then after loading, they check them again when they return back to the Black Sea. The waiting time, the route time, has increased, and it’s had a great financial impact on our export clients,” Aleksandrovich told VOA.

Amid the upheaval, there has been progress in some areas. The organization, Halabuda, began as a group of volunteers taking supplies to soldiers on the front line. It has now morphed into an advice group for residents and businesses.

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Cranes are seen in the Azov Sea port of Mariupol, Ukraine, Dec. 2, 2018. VOA

“A question that concerns every single citizen of Ukraine is corruption. Compared to the corruption in law enforcement that we had five years ago, now after the reforms, we nearly eradicated corruption at the level of the traffic police,” said Halabuda founder Dmitry Chichera.

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Corruption and conflict: generational challenges with no easy answers. The people of Mariupol are desperate for change and for the war to end. They know that whoever becomes president, the threat from the east is unlikely to end anytime soon. (VOA)