Andreas Papaconstantinou, European Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations (ECHO) Director for Neighbourhood and Middle East
I personally witnessed haunting images of massive destruction in Irpin, Bucha, Borodyanka
20.05.2022 16:13

Andreas Papaconstantinou, Director of the European Commission's Directorate-General for European Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations (ECHO), has recently visited several regions of Ukraine. He met with local government officials to find out what is needed today and what assistance should be provided.

According to Papaconstantinou, the Ukrainian authorities share the view that the key priority of emergency assistance from the international community should be multi-purpose financial assistance. At the same time, he is concerned about how the issue of housing for displaced persons will be addressed with the approach of winter.

Papaconstantinou spoke with Ukrinform about the EU's humanitarian policy, the repurposing of already launched EU support programs, the possibility of cooperation in the field of humanitarian demining and the results of his visit to Ukraine.


- How do you assess the scale of the humanitarian crisis caused by the Russian aggression in Ukraine?

- The humanitarian situation in Ukraine is alarming and calls for our immediate response. The past three months of hostilities have been detrimental to the people of Ukraine, causing widespread human suffering and displacement. The figures speak for themselves: to date, over 8 million people are internally displaced within Ukraine according to the IOM and nearly 6.5 million people have already fled Ukraine according to UNHCR. As a result, the humanitarian needs are increasing exponentially. 

The countless reports and horrific images of atrocities committed by the Russian forces are shocking. I witnessed this myself in Irpin, Bucha, and Borodyanka. 

The conditions are slowly improving in recently liberated regions, such as the outskirts of Kyiv or some regions in the Chernihiv and Sumy oblasts. However, the humanitarian situation in the regions under Russian siege or occupation is worsening by the day. 

The EU is particularly concerned about the humanitarian situation in eastern and southern Ukraine, where humanitarian needs are increasingly more difficult to address amid persistent access, logistics and security constraints. The lack of unhindered humanitarian access is one of the biggest concerns of the EU and humanitarian partners. 


- The European Union intends to adapt military assistance to Ukraine to the protracted [prolonged] military conflict. How will the EU's humanitarian policy change in the face of predictions that the war could drag on?

- The humanitarian needs are massive and will persist even after the war. The EU is in for the long haul and is committed to provide assistance as long as humanitarian needs are there. This is a priority for the European Union. And I want to recall that the EU was providing humanitarian assistance to people in need in Ukraine since 2014. The EU will always stand by Ukraine. 

So far, the EU has allocated EUR 243 million in humanitarian assistance to Ukraine in response to Russia’s unprovoked invasion to Ukraine. The EU’s humanitarian assistance is delivered and distributed through our humanitarian partners present on the ground, like UN-agencies, the Red Cross and International Non-Governmental Organizations. Our partners provide those in need with food, water, health care, psychosocial support, emergency shelter, protection, and cash assistance. Ukrainian local organizations, in coordination with national and local authorities have played a key role in the distribution of this aid across Ukraine. 


- Prior to the full-scale Russian invasion, the European Union implemented a €60 million programme to support eastern Ukraine, which included decentralization, economic recovery, community security, education and reform, and a four-year governance and peace restoration project worth € 30 million. What will be the fate of these projects - will they be suspended or re-purposed on more pressing needs during the war?  

- Of the UNDP-implemented programme on ‘EU Support to the East of Ukraine: Recovery, Peacebuilding and Governance’ (EUR 56.5 million – including EUR 15mn from the EU4ResilientRegions package), approximately EUR 13.3 million are being repurposed with the aim of providing to support to the affected populations and host communities in Ukraine. They largely focus on strengthening local emergency response capacities, including support to relocated small businesses as well as households of internally displaced persons. They also provide support in the re-profiling of public infrastructure into temporary shelters and safe spaces for vulnerable people. 

In addition, the EU is finalising negotiations on a new assistance package that will ensure continuation and scaling up of the previously mentioned activities, using the experience gained over the past seven years working with conflict-affected regions.

The remaining 15mn EUR of the EU4ResilientRegions packages were originally directed at the support of media and support to regions affected by the conflict in the East and South of Ukraine. Their activities were repurposed for modular housing for displaced persons in Chernivtsi (EUR 3million) and to procurement of goods (EUR 2 million), grants and local subsidies will be repurposed into emergency support, including to civil society, internally displaced persons, and the health sector. In the media field, repurposing will increase support to fighting disinformation and a short-term support package for regional journalists on technical, digital/physical security and mental health support as well as targeted grants to selected outlets (EUR 1 million).


- In your view, what humanitarian issues should be considered among priorities in Ukraine at this stage?

- During my mission to Ukraine, I witnessed huge needs in the areas of food, water, health care, psychosocial support, emergency shelter protection, and cash assistance. The Ukrainian authorities share the view that a key priority of the international community’s emergency relief aid should be multi-purpose cash assistance. But I remain worried about the coming winter, where displaced people will face cold temperatures and there will be an increasing need for winterized shelter. 

Moreover, after what we witnessed during the dramatic developments at the Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol, it is imperative to establish safe passages from shelled and besieged areas in eastern Ukraine. 

The respect for International Humanitarian Law by both parties to the conflict is another key priority for the EU. 

We condemn the blatant violations of International Humaniatrain Law, including the targeting of civilians and civilian infrastructure, as well as mounting evidence of sexual violence. 

- In addition to the previously occupied part of eastern Ukraine and Crimea, Russia has seized several cities in the south of our country. According to residents of the occupied regions, the humanitarian situation there is extremely difficult. What opportunities do you see for providing humanitarian relief aid to people currently living in the occupied south?

- Humanitarian access remains challenging, especially in the Eastern and Southern parts of Ukraine where hostilities have intensified and the humanitarian needs are growing. Without access, our humanitarian partners cannot efficiently deliver emergency assistance to those in need. The EU fully supports the establishment of safe passage/humanitarian corridors to deliver relief items and to evacuate civilians.

The role of our UN partners as well as of the International Committee for the Red Cross (ICRC) is vital in this respect. We call on both parties – Russia and Ukraine – to allow for these impartial actors to mediate in the establishment of safe humanitarian corridors that would facilitate the delivery of humanitarian aid. We discussed with our humanitarian partners the ways to increase their presence and the delivery of assistance in occupied territories.


- One of the topics of your meeting last year with then Deputy Prime Minister Oleksiy Reznikov in Brussels was the possibility of cooperation in the field of humanitarian de-mining. At present, this problem has become even more acute in Ukraine. What are the prospects for such cooperation between Ukraine and the EU? Some European countries have already offered assistance to Ukraine in bilateral de-mining. Can we count on some centralised EU assistance on this issue? 

- The EU is already cooperating with Ukraine in a number of ways in this important area. 

DG ECHO is currently funding two humanitarian programmes with a mine action component, specifically on explosive ordnance risk education (EORE) activities. In addition, the Emergency Response Coordination Centre (ERCC) is currently in contact with the State Emergency Service of Ukraine to discuss ways in which support from EU Member States could be channeled to Ukraine via the Union Civil Protection Mechanism (UCPM). To be able to operate in Ukraine, a Member State offering demining teams would first need to get a certificate for mine clearing operators. As demining efforts involve high risk and liability, it is essential that the offering country and Ukraine follow a specific procedure to obtain the status of mine clearing operator. 

Furthermore, mine action can also be funded through instruments under other EU services and instruments, such as the Instrument for Neighbourhood, Development and International Cooperation (NDICI) or the European Peace Facility (EPF).


- Due to the war waged by Russia, around 5.8 million people left Ukraine, most of whom found temporary refuge in European countries. How successful is the EU in meeting this challenge? How popular is this opinion that we hear within some EU member-states that humanitarian aid to Ukraine should be limited only to the forced refugees? 

- Since the start of the Russian invasion in February 2022, the EU has shown an unprecedented level of solidarity with Ukraine, stepping up its political, humanitarian, and military support. As the humanitarian crisis began to unfold, many EU Member States showed the rapid and unified will to welcome the millions of Ukrainians fleeing the invasion.  In the Eurobarometer, a public opinion survey conducted regularly on behalf of the EU Institutions, the European people expressed strong solidarity with Ukraine; more than nine out of ten respondents (93%) supported for example the humanitarian response. 

- The root cause of the humanitarian problems in Ukraine that have been ongoing since 2014 and have intensified significantly now is Russia's aggressive policy. Do you see opportunities to influence Russia in this sense to reduce the ordeal of Ukrainians? 

- We are committed to helping Ukraine overcome this humanitarian crisis, reconstruct the country and rebuild peace in Europe. But this peace can only be built and should be built on solid ground, respectful of the national sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine. 

Ukrainians are subject to brutal aggression. Haunting images of civilian deaths and massive destruction, I personally witnessed when visiting Irpin, Bucha, and Borodyanka. We need to continue to defend a multilateral order, based on democratic values and the full respect of international law. 


- According to the Ukrainian authorities, since the beginning of the full-scale invasion, the invaders have abducted 2,389 Ukrainian children. Russia is talking about the deportation of about 200,000 Ukrainian children - Russia says "they are evacuating children from dangerous areas". And they even speak about transferring those children for adoption. The total number of forcibly deported citizens of Ukraine is unknown - ranging from 500,000 to 900,000 and almost 1.2 million people. Is there an internationally recognised mechanism for returning such citizens home?

- The forced evacuation of war-affected civilians is totally unacceptable. The EU is deeply concerned about the safety and well-being of children who have been forced to flee their homes and have been placed into situations that exacerbate their vulnerability. The risks of falling victim to abuse, exploitation, trafficking and neglect are extremely high and must be prevented. Special attention must also be paid to children in institutional care, such as the disabled and orphans, who are directly exposed to atrocities. Child protection is a priority for EU humanitarian action. 

The EU condemns the blatant and widespread violations of International Humanitarian Law and Human Rights, particularly against children. Children need to be treated in line with the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. We call for the protection of children from the atrocities of the war. 

- In your view, what are the results of your visit to Ukraine?

- There is a very substantial convergence among the humanitarian actors and the Government of Ukraine regarding the actions which should be undertaken to address this very dire situation. 

I had very good meetings with the Ukrainian authorities, as well as with the UN, the ICRC and other international partners on the challenges and priorities of humanitarian action in Ukraine. Moreover, there is an emerging consensus that we need to move forward also in the areas of recovery and reconstruction. But above all, I was impressed by the brave spirit and resilience of the Ukrainian people during these dark hours. They have our full support.

Nadiya Yurchenko, Ivan Kosiakin

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