Ukraine has witnessed intense fighting since 24 February 2022. The brutal invasion by Russia has created a grave humanitarian crisis affecting millions of people. Residents in eastern Ukraine and other regions have endured eight years of the conflict. Still, the intensification and the fast spread of the conflict across the country risks a scale of death and destruction, frightening in contemplation, given the military capacities involved.
Over three million Ukrainians have fled the country, while many are trapped in towns and cities encircled by Russians with no route for escape. The dire humanitarian situation calls for large-scale assistance by scaling supplies, services and creating safe humanitarian corridors for the civilians trapped in cities under siege. According to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), the Ukraine conflict has resulted in the loss of lives, mass movement and displacement, injuries, and severe damage and destruction of residential housing and civilian infrastructure. Public service utilities such as heating, electricity, water, social services, and ambulatory services are under severe pressure. The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) reports that Ukrainians' access to primary healthcare services continues to be limited by shrinking humanitarian space and growing insecurity.
On March 1, the United Nations and humanitarian partners launched coordinated emergency appeals requesting $1.7 billion to deliver humanitarian support to people in Ukraine and Ukrainian refugees in neighboring countries. Further, OCHA asked for another $1.1 billion in assisting 6 million people trapped in Ukraine for three months. OCHA fund would cater for cash assistance to the vulnerable, water, sanitation, protection services, shelter services, rebuilding of damaged residential homes, food assistance, and education services. The plan also includes delivering support to authorities, helping establish and maintain transit and reception centers for the displaced hence protecting civilians from gender-based violence and sexual exploitation.
CARE launched a humanitarian appeal to support the most vulnerable in Ukraine, particularly women-headed households and the elderly. Ukraine Humanitarian Crisis Fund seeks to provide life-saving assistance to the 4 million people impacted by the conflict. Florence Gillette, head of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) in Kyiv, reiterated the need for the parties in the conflict to respect international humanitarian law noting that, ‘'all parties to the conflict have a legal obligation to ensure that military operations are planned and conducted in a way as to ensure the protection of civilians and civilian objects''. ICRC and OCHA called for the protection of critical infrastructures such as gas, water, and electrical systems providing civilian schools, homes, and healthcare facilities.
Douglas J. Feith, a senior fellow at Hudson Institute, and John Hannah, a senior fellow at the Jewish Institute for National Security, have recently called for a humanitarian airlift noting it could save Ukraine. The two experts argue that a humanitarian airlift would mirror the World War Berlin airlift. In the meantime, airlift would allow the provision of food, water, medicine, and other essential supplies to Kherson, Mariupol, Kharkiv, and other cities besieged by Russian forces. However, a humanitarian airlift would not be without risks as Russian forces could shoot down planes and claim it as ‘'accidental,'' but it is worth taking to save Ukrainians. The United States and Europe can coordinate the airlift and notify the Russians of the flight plans to avoid ‘'accidental'' shootings.
Former U.S generals called for the humanitarian airlifts to Ukraine, decrying NATO's passive response to the Russian attacks. James Jones, NATO supreme allied commander Europe (SACEUR) from 2003 and 2005, called for the humanitarian airlift to be protected by military fighter jets for safety. The generals noted the humanitarian situation is catastrophic and continues to worsen unless a humanitarian airlift is organized to assist Ukrainians trapped in besieged cities. The idea of having fighter jets escort the humanitarian aircraft would offer protection and help get more volunteer pilots willing to fly into the besieged cities to deliver humanitarian supplies. However, the involvement of fight jets would create tensions between European powers and U.S involvement in the war, but it would help send a message to President Putin and Russia. U.S Representative Young Kim and Senator Roger Wicker called for an immediate humanitarian airlift from the United States to Ukraine to assist besieged civilians and military support.
The humanitarian situation in Ukraine continues to worsen. In Mariupol city, residents are running short of water, food, and medicine. Many of them have no electricity in wintertime, and the suffering is widespread more than in neighboring media. The need for humanitarian corridors has become dire as Russia continues with the bombing. Russia claims to be letting people move through humanitarian corridors. Still, in reality, such corridors have been targeted by gunfire and bombing, with a recent incident being in Irpin outside Kyiv.
On March 3rd March 2022, Russian and Ukraine agreed to create ten humanitarian corridors to allow the evacuation of the civilians trapped in cities facing bombardment. However, no significant progress in creating the corridors, and the operating corridors continue to be targeted by Russian forces. Agnes Callamard, Amnesty International Secretary-General, called for the immediate establishment of Genuine humanitarian corridors to allow a safe, effective, and quicker evacuation for the civilians. Further, Amnesty International called out Russian forces for the assault on civilians and destruction of critical infrastructure as a violation of the Geneva and International human rights law, and Russia must be held responsible. It is inhumane for Russians to besiege cities cutting supply lines for vital necessities such as food, water, and medicine, and humanitarian corridors must be protected for all civilians fleeing from the conflict. Russian force's conduct violates international humanitarian law, specifically Protocol I of the Geneva Convention.
Limited humanitarian no-fly zones
Earlier in the month, a dozen foreign policy experts had called for the United States and Nato to institute a partial no-fly zone over Ukraine to protect civilians against Russian bombers. The experts argued for a limited No-Fly zone over Ukraine to protect humanitarian corridors to allow civilians to flee from the besieged cities. The experts led by William Taylor, former U.S ambassador to Ukraine, Alexander Vershbow, Former U.S ambassador to Russia and Nato, and Former U.S ambassador to NATO, called for notification to Russian officials that the limited No-Fly zone would not be a confrontation with Russian forces but also make it clear that Russian attacks on civilian areas must stop.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky had called for No-Fly Zone to be imposed in Ukraine. The request was rejected by NATO and the United States, fearing a military confrontation with Russia. NATO Secretary-General noted that NATO imposition of the No-Fly Zone would be catastrophic and would lead to massive loss of Ukrainian lives. Retired General Philip Breedlove suggested a humanitarian no-fly zone. General Breedlove, a former NATO supreme allied commander, noted that the humanitarian no-fly zone would be done through a ‘'coalition of the willing'' that would help construct a humanitarian operation that protects humanitarian relief corridors and all manner of things below them. It does not require military action unless Russian attacks the humanitarian zone, necessitating a response. Gen. Breedlove told Fox News that such a humanitarian initiative would be suitable to avoid escalation and confrontation with the Russians, who seem prepared to fight. The experts support the suggestion of a humanitarian no fly-zone which is reasonable and provides a non-military solution to the civilians trapped in the Ukrainian cities. While the need to deescalate is necessary, Russia and President Putin should not be left to terrorize civilians, most of whom are vulnerable through cutting supplies and blocking humanitarian assistance and corridors. Douglas J. Feith and John Hannah argued that a humanitarian no-fly zone would send a message to Russia that the world would not stand and watch brutality against civilians in total violation of international laws.
The humanitarian situation in Ukraine is worsening and requires immediate response through Airlift, the establishment of safe humanitarian corridors, and humanitarian no-fly zones. NATO and the United States should lead the humanitarian efforts, especially in establishing humanitarian corridors and humanitarian no fly-zones. The UN, CARE, ICRC, and Amnesty international are leading efforts to raise funds for supplies to the people of Ukraine in distress. Humanitarian supplies require support from NATO and the U.S to ensure safety by providing safe corridors and no-fly zones. Airlifting humanitarian supplies to the region would risk attacks from Russian forces on the ground, which could escalate the war and cause more destruction and loss of lives. However, Russia should be informed of the establishment of corridors and humanitarian no-fly zones as a matter of urgency, and humanitarian efforts should proceed with or without Russia's support. The fate of Ukrainian civilians should not be left at the mercy of a brutal military, and a leader aimed determined to fulfill his territorial fantasies through blood, death, and pain. U.S and NATO should supplement the humanitarian efforts currently being undertaken by International Non-governmental organizations through airlift and humanitarian no-fly zone.
Geofrey Robert is an experienced freelance researcher and writer with over five years of experience. He holds a Bachelor of law from Kenyatta University (Nairobi, Kenya). His research interests are: International law, Peace & Security, Conflict, humanitarian issues, and climate change. He worked as a peace and security news writer for Peacehumanity.org. and also contributed to their periodic PEACE MONITOR MAGAZINE as a peace researcher and writer focusing on the Israel-Palestine conflict.
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