Civilian water infrastructure has been targeted repeatedly during eastern Ukraine’s four-year conflict. Most recently, workers attempting to maintain the Donetsk Filtration System (DFS), which supplies water to 345,000 Ukrainians, came under fire. In the first two weeks of March, DFS technicians were shot at on four separate occasions.
The Donetsk Filtration System is just one of eastern Ukraine’s water systems that has experienced frequent shelling. The South Donbas pumping station was repeatedly damaged by shelling in June 2017. The Verkhnokalmiuska filtration system, which supplies water to 800,000, was hit by multiple shells in November 2017. Piping in towns and cities has been bombed, leaving many civilians without running water. The devastation of water infrastructure has also impacted heating, a grave concern as temperatures dip below -20 Celsius.
“We go every day, sometimes several times [to collect water]. I don’t know why, but our well water now tastes bitter. Before cooking with it or drinking it, we boil it and let it sit for some time. I think this is because of shelling – something got into the water.” –Karina, a seven-year-old living in Olenivka settlement in the non-government controlled part of the Donetsk region. Her house has been without running water since the pipes were damaged by shelling four years ago.
By The Numbers
3.4 million Number of people in need of humanitarian assistance in eastern Ukraine.
10,000 Estimated number of casualties since conflict began in eastern Ukraine four years ago. The fighting has displaced more than a million people.
750,000 Number of Ukrainian children who were briefly cut off from safe drinking water after fighting flared in June 2017.
70 Number of settlements along the ‘contact line’ of the conflict that have intermittently been without water this winter.
30 Number of workers who were shot at while being bussed home from the DFS on March 13. It was the fourth such attack in two weeks. The violence is jeopardizing the operation and maintenance of the DFS.
Science, Studies, and Reports
The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs publishes frequent Ukraine Humanitarian Snapshot infographics, which provide updates on casualties, damages, and funding. The snapshots also track monthly and yearly WASH incidents. In 2018, there have been 9 reported WASH incidents, including the recent shooting at DFS workers.
On The Radar
In response to the recent DFS attacks, the United Nations has called for heightened civilian protection, emphasizing that a deliberate disruption of water supply is a violation of international humanitarian law. UN officials warn that any interruption of water supply or inter-dependent heating systems during Ukraine’s harsh winter could cause severe humanitarian consequences.
Resources and Further Reading
OHCHR: Deaths, Injuries Mount as Ukraine Conflict Enters 4th Year (Voice of America)
Ukraine: Humanitarian Snapshot (as of 16 March 2018) (Relief Web)
Ukraine: UN calls for protection of civilians after attacks on water facility workers (UN News)
Ukraine: UN experts warn of chemical disaster and water safety risk as conflict escalates in East (Relief Web)
WASH Cluster Incident Report No. 117 – 13/03/2018 (Relief Web)
Water under fire (Medium)
Winter bites on both sides of the conflict in Ukraine (UNICEF)
Kayla Ritter is a recent graduate of Michigan State University, where she studied International Relations and Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages. She is currently based in Manton, Michigan. Kayla enjoys running, writing, and traveling. Contact Kayla Ritter