Opinion piece by CONCORD’s EPAN (Enlargement, Pre-accession and Neighborhood) working group.

The humanitarian crisis in Ukraine is getting worse every day. The ongoing armed conflict in the east of the country has forced hundreds of thousands out of their homes. According to observations on the ground (UNHCR and OCHA) there are over 430,059 internally displaced people (IDP) in Ukraine itself while some 454,339 have fled to neighbouring countries since January 2014. The estimated number of people living in conflict-affected areas now stands at 5.2 million. The real figures seem to be much higher still.

The Ukrainian Parliament only recently adopted the long-awaited Law “On ensuring of rights and freedoms of internally displaced persons”, which had been delaying humanitarian assistance so far. The law is close to international standards, but does not include foreigners and stateless people. At the time of writing, the law is due to be signed by the President.

Obstacles to humanitarian aid

The aggravation of the precarious situation on the ground, worsened by the non-official military intervention from Russia isn’t helping. Yet all sides in this conflict have shown blatant disregard for civilian lives and their international obligations.

What needs to be set up is a central unified registration system and electronic database of IDPs. This needs to happen fast and has to be well resourced. Without it there will be no effective registration of same which is hampering in many ways the humanitarian aid from reaching the needy.

While humanitarian aid for the most vulnerable is flowing into the country, it can only alleviate the suffering of the civilians, not solve the conflict.

For those of us working for NGOs active in Ukraine and with the EU’s Eastern Partnership, we strongly believe the European community should not stand by. The country needs to be stabilized to address the urgent needs of the population in this war-torn region.

What the EU can do

– Strong European support and coordination of humanitarian help in the area,

– Immediate action to foster reconciliation among citizens and institutions in all parts of Ukraine and in particular in the conflict area,

– Support to local governance and empowerment of civil society in all parts of Ukraine and in particular in the conflict area,

– Continuation of the negotiations without interruption and with all parties involved to put an end to the military actions.

A viable solution for displaced people and the most vulnerable must remain at the top of the agenda of the newly established institutions. Dialogue with all stakeholders must be also kept open in order to progress in the peace negotiations and help citizens to start rebuilding their lives

Peaceful change for the Ukrainian people

In the end, democracy and reconciliation are the only answers.

Civic spirit quickly lost in times of war, as people struggle to survive and it takes years to rebuild. Reconciliation and trust in fellow human beings, as well as into local and state institutions are the key concepts to bring the region out of crisis. Democracy must develop on the ground and it must develop peacefully.

Driving local development is crucial as many countries within the Eastern Partnership region need to further develop and strengthen their system of local government and citizen participation at the local level. It is important to keep the topic on the political agenda and ensure that concrete actions such as the mobilisation of existing potential, the organisation of administrative systems, and the enhancement of capacities for the implementation of reforms, are taken.

Achieving substantial reform and real change in this field is a long term process. We consider citizen participation in local decision-making processes, both at local and international level, essential to further reform and guarantee lasting peace, respect of human rights, justice, and prosperity for all.

As stated by international observers the official Ukrainian parliamentary elections in recent days marked an important step in consolidating democratic elections in line with international commitments including an impartial and efficient Central Election Commission (CEC) and competitive contests.

However, more courage and political will is needed to support solutions on macro level while determination and vision will be crucial to rebuild trust among the affected population.