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UN Refugee Agency Alarmed By 'Worsening Situation' In Ukraine's Kharkiv As War Continues

21.05.2024 15:12

Agency concerned that conditions in Kharkiv – which is already hosting 200,000 internally displaced people – could become 'even more difficult' if ground offensive, 'relentless' aerial attacks continue, says spokesperson.

The UN refugee agency on Tuesday said it is "extremely worried" about the "worsening situation" in Ukraine's Kharkiv region and a spike in humanitarian needs and forced displacement amid a "new ground offensive" by the Russian forces.

UNHCR spokesperson Shabia Mantoo told a UN press briefing in Geneva that "relentless" aerial attacks continue, "prolonging and exacerbating an already dire situation."

An air attack targeting a recreation area in Cherkaska Lozova village in Kharkiv region killed six people and injured at least 27 others last week, Mantoo said.

She added that more than 10,300 people were evacuated from their villages in the Kharkiv region's border areas by Ukrainian authorities with the help of volunteers and humanitarian organizations.

She said that the majority of the evacuees had to escape their homes with only a few belongings and they are already "highly vulnerable and include mainly older people and those with low mobility or disabilities who were not able to flee earlier."

To receive and support many of the evacuees, a transit center was set up in Kharkiv city, she added.

"UNHCR is concerned that conditions in Kharkiv – Ukraine's second-largest city, which is already hosting some 200,000 internally displaced people – could become even more difficult if the ground offensive and relentless aerial attacks continue," she said. "This could force many to leave Kharkiv for safety and survival, seeking protection elsewhere."

The spokesperson stressed that Kharkiv was under an air-raid alert that lasted for 16 hours without interruption last week. Moreover, she said, the attacks on energy infrastructure that are affecting people across Ukraine are particularly "critical" for Kharkiv, where energy supplies are already "well below standard capacity," affecting households, production capacity and the economy.

Mantoo called on donors to maintain robust and flexible funding as UNHCR's response in Ukraine is just 16% funded from a total of $598.9 million required.

She underlined that this response also includes support for the winter response "as the comprehensive damage to energy facilities is estimated to significantly increase the need for humanitarian assistance during the cold season."

Kharkiv Governor Oleh Synyehubov on Sunday said that at least 10 people were killed and 25 injured due to Russian shelling in a rural settlement of Mala Danylivka in Ukraine's northeastern Kharkiv region and another attack on two settlements in the region's eastern Kupiansk district.

On May 10, Ukraine's Defense Ministry said Russian forces attempted to breach the country's defenses in the Kharkiv region, opening a new front in the over two-year-long conflict that is concentrated in the country's east and south.

Clashes in the region have intensified since then, and Russia has claimed to have seized control of several border settlements during its offensive, particularly near the city of Vovchansk, located about 74 kilometers (45 miles) from Kharkiv city.

'Time to ensure Ukraine's health care system can continue functioning next winter'

The World Health Organization (WHO) representative in Ukraine told the briefing that humanitarian needs in the region are growing "exponentially" with the worsening security situation.

WHO has a permanent office in Kyiv and since last week, the UN agency has deployed additional staff to support the immediate health needs of the population, Jarno Habicht said.

The agency, anticipating this possible escalation in the last three months, has prepositioned over 22 metric tons of medical supplies for treatment of acute trauma, surgical interventions and chronic disease management, according to Habicht.

"These supplies are able to reach up to 50,000 people and are being put to use now to treat the growing number of trauma cases across the region," he said.

He stressed that fortification of the health system to withstand repeated waves of violence escalation as important as immediate support to the people.

"Now is the time to get ready for the next winter and ensure Ukraine's health care system can continue functioning amidst prolonged adversity," he said.

The conflict has significantly increased the number of trauma patients, he noted and added that WHO is currently funding critical care teams and ambulances to support emergency medical services.

From April 21 to May 12, 115 critical care transfers were facilitated by these teams, with 109 requiring ICU-level care, he added. -

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