24 February 2022
Geneva (ICRC) – This new phase of the fighting in Ukraine has sent an ominous chill down my spine. The intensification and spread of the conflict risk a scale of death and destruction that are frightening to contemplate, given the immense military capacities involved.
We already see the immediate consequences for civilians, with the latest intensification triggering new displacement. Residents in Donbas and elsewhere have already endured eight years of conflict. Now I fear increased suffering, with the potential of massive casualty numbers and extensive destruction of civilian objects like water and electricity plants, as well as mass displacement, trauma, family separation, and missing persons.
It is ICRC’s long experience that miscalculations, a lack of understanding and faulty assumptions to assess potential civilian impacts of major combat operations can have terrible effects.
We ask those involved in that fighting to take into account that:
Parties to the conflict in Ukraine must adhere to international humanitarian law, including the four 1949 Geneva Conventions and its First Additional Protocol from 1977, as well as ensure the protection of the civilian population and detainees. They must refrain from attacks that violate the rules of the conduct of hostilities or prohibitions on means and methods of warfare. The use of weapons with wide area effects should be avoided in populated areas.
Attacks must not be directed against civilian objects. Essential infrastructure must be spared, including water, gas and electrical systems that, for instance, provide civilian homes, schools and medical facilities with vital water and electricity supplies. Attacks carried out with new technologies and cyber means must also respect international humanitarian law.
Space for neutral, impartial and independent humanitarian action must be protected so that aid actors like the Ukrainian Red Cross, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), and the wider Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement can maintain access to civilians.
The ICRC’s priority is to assist those in need. This week we delivered 3,000 litres of potable water to Dokuchaevsk hospital and sent 7,000 litres to Donetsk municipality. Recent work also includes visits to places of detention to help improve hygiene and nutrition. The security situation permitting, our teams now in Ukraine will continue their work to repair vital infrastructure, support health facilities with medicines and equipment, and support families with food and hygiene items. We will also continue our bilateral and confidential dialogue with the parties to the conflict to protect those affected by the fighting.
We call for all states to do everything in their power and influence to avoid escalating a conflict whose cost and consequences for civilian populations outpaces the capacity to protect and assist them.
The ICRC has seen many conflicts start and escalate in recent years, but too few of them end, and in each one it is the civilian populations that bear the consequences.