The conflict in Eastern Ukraine continues to threaten the well-being of children throughout the region. Some of the most vulnerable of these children are those living in proximity to the contact line: the demarcation point distinguishing government-controlled areas (GCA) from non-governmentcontrolled areas (NGCA). On the government-controlled side alone, there are over 54,000 children living within 15km of the contact line. With hundreds of ceasefire violations recorded daily along the contact line by the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission and the presence of mines and unexploded ordnance, these children are exposed to the danger of armed conflict in ways that children living beyond this zone do not face. But it is not only direct exposure to violence that distinguishes this area from territory further from the contact line. The creation of a de facto barrier to movement between GCA and NGCA, damage to transportation infrastructure and the collapse of public transportation in many locations has greatly isolated settlements. This isolation combined with continued violent conflict, infrastructure damage, and mined farmland has dramatically increased unemployment among parents, with many settlements having practically no work outside of government institutions such as schools and medical facilities. This high unemployment, coupled with a greatly depreciated Ukrainian currency, has deepened monetary poverty. The conditions of, and access to, key infrastructure such as health, education, and water has been negatively affected as well. The situation is, overall, one of greatly heightened vulnerability of those living along the contact line.
This assessment focuses on the conditions of children and their families living in government-controlled territory within 15km of the contact line: a zone defined in the Minsk Agreements as a heavy weapons exclusion zone. In addition to distinguishing between areas within the 15km contact line and those beyond, this assessment makes a further distinction between the conditions of settlements within 5km of the contact line and those 5-15km away. There are certain factors unique to the 5km zone that heighten the vulnerability of children living there; chiefly the range of small arms and light weapons, the higher prevalence of mines and other explosive remnants of war, and the greater presence of checkpoints and restricted movement areas (i.e. the contact line itself). As one respondent in East Marinka put it: “Yes, it is terrible to have to listen to the shelling from Kurakhove [about 17km from the contact line], but what they are listening to is us being shelled. And we understand that they have less work due to the conflict, but we have no work… If they get sick they can get to the hospital. If we get hurt during shelling, we have to wait until the shelling ends or hope soldiers evacuate us… My child can’t go to kindergarten because our kindergartens were destroyed. Their children are safe in school. Yes, they lose power sometimes, but I’ve had to sit in cold basement almost every evening with my husband and children for the last two months just waiting… and the suspense is heavy. The war is here.”
Though the respondent’s neighborhood in East Marinka is a particularly dangerous location, her point is nonetheless valid: areas where shells fall, even if only rarely, suffer from different challenges than areas out of range of these weapons.3 The effects of this are palpable in settlements along the contact line. To paraphrase a psychologist working for a UNICEF-sponsored mobile team, “Around 15km from the front conditions get really bad and around 5km from the front they go off a cliff.” With these distinctions made, it also must be stressed that the situation along the contact line is highly variable from settlement to settlement within the 5km zone or even in different districts of the same settlement and there are exceptions to almost every generalization. Regarding security for example, ceasefire violations are not evenly spread along the contact line. Some 5km settlements are shelled daily, while others have only been hit a few times in the last two years. In fact, for the last three months of 2016, the vast majority of ceasefire violations concentrated near smaller settlements around the city of Donetsk and the area around Mariupol. Economic security provides another example of such variance. Most locations have high employment, but in a small number of settlements factories or mines still operate and unemployment remains low and spares the population from the degree of monetary poverty faced in most settlements. The interactions of these widely varying factors have a major impact on the lives of children along the contact line and are reflected in this report.