Have we forgotten about Eastern Ukraine?

The conflict in Avdiivka as a continuation of suffering by other means
Semenivka, Ukraine, 2016. A house destroyed in the fighting.

At the Minsk Summit, on the 11th of February 2015, the leaders of Russia, Ukraine, Germany, and France agreed to an immediate and full ceasefire in the Ukrainian districts of Donetsk and Luhansk and its fulfillment as of midnight, on the 15th of February 2015. A complete pull-out of all heavy weapons by both sides to the conflict has also been agreed upon, for the purpose of establishing a secured zone. The Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe took the responsibility to monitor and verify the ceasefire regime and the pull-out of heavy weapons.

One the 29th of January 2017, combined Russian-separatist forces attacked Ukrainian forces in Avdiivka, a town on Ukrainian government-controlled territory in Eastern Ukraine. They started massively shelling Ukrainian troops’ positions around 5 a.m. on the 30th of January, using mortar launchers and cannons. Following 90-120 minutes of artillery preparation, the separatists changed over to the offensive. Since the 31st of January, the town has been shelled by Grad rockets. Artillery, tanks, and rockets have been used by the separatist forces, highlighting that the agreement from 2015 (Minsk II) has failed. The serious escalation led to the death of seven Ukrainian soldiers. Fourteen were wounded and two civilians died during the first days. The conflict quickly spread to other districts – near Mariupol and in Luhansk oblast. Occupants conducted massive mortar attacks in Troitske, Zaitseve, Verkhniotoretske and Opytne.

Combined Russian-separatist forces continued shelling the Ukrainian forces from mortar launchers, tanks, and grenade launchers for several days and brought rocket artillery up to the frontline, which has been a direct violation of the Minsk II agreement. Ukrainian officials claimed the attacks were an attempt by combined Russian forces to derail the ceasefire by effectively baiting Ukraine into retaliatory actions, which could be used as an excuse for further escalations, or for propaganda.

Taken from the Ukraine Crisis Media Center (http://uacrisis.org/)

The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe indicated 2,260 “ceasefire violations” only for the first day of the escalation. It monitors and identifies ceasefire violations through direct observation, or by hearing the sounds of explosions or small arms’ fire. The situation in the town of Avdiivka has deteriorated. As a consequence of the shelling, critical infrastructures of the town have been destroyed. This has caused a humanitarian crisis – civilians have no water, electricity, and heating, while the temperature is around –18 Celsius. The International Committee of the Red Cross has been working on both sides of the front line and supporting the efforts of the local authorities to provide aid and address the most urgent needs. The ICRC has confirmed that the fighting is most severe in the town of Avdiivka. Furthermore, the Committee warned of deteriorating humanitarian situation amid intensifying hostilities in eastern Ukraine. As of the 2nd of March 2017, the escalation of the conflict continues. Avdiivka and its outskirts remain the epicenter of the combined Russian-separatist forces most intense attacks. They use “traditional” weapons from light arms to large cannons and tanks. Within 24 hours, the Russian-backed militants launched over 110 artillery bombs, 60 tank projectiles and over 400 mortar shells at Ukrainian positions.

On 17 March the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission to Ukraine (SMM) together with representatives of the Joint Centre for Control and Co-ordination (JCCC) patrolled the area between Avdiivka and Yasynuvata, eastern Ukraine. (OSCE/Evgeniy Maloletka)

The situation in eastern Ukraine is getting worse everyday, while warnings from the ICRC and the reports from the OSCE are thoroughly disregarded. The appeal of the OSCE for a withdrawal of all banned weapons from the front lines, and for both sides to commit to the ceasefire’s term has yielded no result. The OSCE has no enforcement mandate. Furthermore, the implementation of the Minsk II agreements seems elusive. To aggravate further, the conflict affects densely populated areas, where many civilians live.

Carl von Clausewitz once said that ‘war is a continuation of politics by other means’. Perhaps, he was right. But from the perspective of Ukrainian people who live by the line of contact caught in a spike in the hostilities, war is also a continuation of suffering by other means – the same means that are believed to be used in politics. The main purpose of politics is to serve the interests of people. And if war is about politics or a continuation of politics by ‘other means’, then it isn’t something that serves the interests of these people. Let’s ask the simple question of what is the purpose of politics and to whom it should serve and in whose interest? This conflict has killed over 10,000 Ukrainians, and displaced about 1.7 million people, according to estimates by the U.N. and other humanitarian aid groups. It might be in someone’s interest, but definitely not in the interest of the people who suffer and bear the burden of the war. In other words, the conflict is destroying people’s lives every single day, causing suffering and leaving lasting scars on citizens and their livelihoods. Ruined houses, damaged infrastructure and closed schools are among consequences of the hostilities. People living in villages along the contact line struggle through these difficult times enduring a constant risk of shelling or mine explosions. If the international community does not take the necessary measures in order to implement the Minsk II agreement – to achieve a ceasefire and a pull-out of the heavy weapons that are being used at the moment – Europe’s only ongoing land war retains the potential to escalate into a major, larger conflagration, one that will have devastating consequences for the people of Ukraine.

Categories
Human RightsInternational Affairs
Zhuliyan Zhelezov

Zhuliyan is a student at the University of Southern Denmark, currently enrolled in the Master’s program: ‘International Security and Law’. He has obtained a ‘Master of Laws’ degree from the University of Sofia ‘St. Kliment Ohridski’. He has specializations in international law and international relations. His main interests are in the field of contemporary conflicts: terrorism, counter-terrorism, insurgency, counter-insurgency, and hybrid warfare. His thesis is going to be related to the case of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria. He is also interested in the connection between law and contemporary conflicts and in particular jus ad bellum.
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