"Life-saving assistance" and protection needed for vulnerable Ukrainians

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A woman and her daughters sit in candlelight in a bomb shelter on the outskirts of the city of Debaltsevo in Donetsk Oblast, Ukraine. Photo: UNICEF/Aleksey Filippov

"Life-saving assistance and protection" is urgently needed for millions of Ukrainian civilians caught up in escalating fighting in the east of the country.

That's according to the UN Emergency Relief Coordinator, Stephen O'Brien, briefing the Security Council on Thursday.

Intense fighting in parts of the Donetsk region has disabled some power and water supplies, threatening vulnerable civilians with freezing temperatures.

More details from Matthew Wells.

Security Council members heard from senior UN officials that five days of fighting between government forces and separatist rebels was in danger of spiralling out of control.

Political Affairs chief Jeffrey Feltman told the Council there was no military solution to ending the conflict, and that a pattern of ceasefire agreements "broken by fresh violence has left civilians caught in the crossfire, and trapped in suffering".

"The international community must remain engaged constructively and actively however, if we are to prevent this crisis from becoming a catastrophe."

UN relief chief Stephen O'Brien said that 3.8 million civilians in east Ukraine affected by the fighting were in need of humanitarian assistance, an increase of 700,000 compared to a year ago.

"More than 60% of those in need, some 2.3 million people, reside in non-government controlled areas, further, over 70 per cent of people in need are the elderly, the women and children. These demographics are particularly vulnerable and must be accessed immediately with life-saving assistance and protection interventions."

Mr O'Brien added that apart from disruption to heat and water supplies, there was also a risk of a serious environmental crisis, caused by damage to chemical plants as a result of the fighting.

Matthew Wells, United Nations.

Duration: 1’10″

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