3 February 2016 – Humanitarian organisations in Ukraine are concerned about thousands of civilians facing difficulties every day in crossing the ‘contact line’.

These are Ukrainian citizens – mostly elderly and vulnerable – who queue for hours, in the cold, to access medicines and food, to receive their savings and pensions, and to see their relatives. Restrictions are also placed upon people living in areas under government control close to the frontline.

Closure, even if temporary, of one or more checkpoints will have severe consequences for these people. The recent decision of the Government of Ukraine to close “Zaytseve” checkpoint in Donetsk region, starting on 3 February 2016, and possibly other crossing points, is of serious concern. “Closure of checkpoints has an immediate impact on people’s lives, directly increasing hardship and humanitarian need. If hostilities increase, civilians may be trapped in unsafe areas, at the mercy of violence, mines and unexploded munitions. We urge Government to keep checkpoints open,” said Neal Walker, Humanitarian Coordinator in Ukraine.

International Humanitarian Law stipulates that if a certain transport corridor is closed, all alternative options need to be explored and new safe corridors established. The objective is to ensure civilians can move freely, especially from the area of heightened hostilities. This obligation holds, even when there are security concerns, and limitation to freedom of movement must be proportionate.

All parties to the conflict have an obligation under IHL to ensure the protection of civilians and to facilitate access to humanitarian organisations. “We call on all parties to stop fighting, to adhere to International Humanitarian Law and to ensure protection of civilian population against dangers arising from military operations. Freedom of movement of civilians is critical as is access of humanitarian workers to people in need,” said Barbara Manzi, Head of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in Ukraine.

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According to International Humanitarian Law, all parties to the conflict have an obligation to ensure the protection of civilians. Article 13 of Additional Protocol II states that "The civilian population and individual civilians shall enjoy general protection against dangers arising from military operations."

Photo: UNICEF Ukraine/A.Filippov

3 February 2016 – Humanitarian organisations in Ukraine are concerned about thousands of civilians facing difficulties every day in crossing the ‘contact line’.