It’s Orthodox Christmas And People Are Still Dying In Donbass

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It’s  Christmas in Eastern Europe, and people are still dying in Donbass, the region controlled by Russian-backed separatists in East Ukraine. At least one soldier was killed on each side and up to a dozen injured a couple days after the New Year.

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This means at least two families in the region will not have a father, son, brother home for the Christmas holidays. In fact, they will never see them again; they will only receive a horribly disfigured body, to add to the heartache. The grief will be unimaginable. The deaths come during a supposed truce that was supposed to last through Christmas Day, brokered by the Trilateral Contact Group, consisting of RussiaUkraine and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, or OSCE.

Not only military personnel are being killed. Civilians are dying by the hundreds every year, caught up in the crossfire between these two heavily armed military forces. This is an artillery war, with errant shells routinely landing in civilian areas. The United Nations says this is one of the heaviest concentrations of elderly (over 30 percent) ever to be caught up in a military conflict.

The people of Donbass are increasingly faced with a loss of basic services – water, sewage, food, health care. This is all happening in sub-zero temperatures, again for the fifth year. Human rights are an afterthought in Donbass.

Ursula Mueller, assistant secretary-general for Humanitarian Affairs and deputy Emergency Relief Coordination said, “Millions of men, women and children continue to face dire humanitarian consequences in Europe’s forgotten armed conflict in eastern Ukraine. More than 3,000 civilians have been killed and up to 9,000 injured since the conflict began in 2014, affecting the highest proportion of elderly people in the world, more than 30 per cent. She added that the “contact line” between the sides has dramatically altered the lives of millions of civilians, as people are separated from their families, services and livelihoods. Appealing for more to be done on both sides to improve crossing conditions, she said essential services require urgent improvement, especially water and sanitation facilities.”

The world has forgotten the people of Donbass.

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So as Tolstoy said, when faced with the massive poverty and misery in 19th century Moscow, “What shall we do?”

The  Russian Federation continues to destabilize the region and enables the continuation of the conflict. This status-quo supports Russia’s agenda of preventing Ukraine from becoming successful, and stymies Kyiv’s desire to move closer to the European Union and the West.

Russia will not permit Ukraine to join the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). NATO, for its part, will not accept Ukraine while it is fighting a hot war. Hence, Moscow’s solution is simple: Keep the hot war going, indefinitely. The Kremlin has no incentive to end the conflict.

The recent “elections” in Donbass were an afront to the Minsk Process, a roadmap to end the war set up by the European Powers and the belligerents in 2015. This process seems to be going nowhere.

The United Nations wrote in its Security Council report released in October, “Speaking after the vote, Council members urged the parties to abide by the ceasefire and to urgently fulfill all the provisions of the Minsk agreements, which they said remain the only framework for progress in reaching a peace. Expressing concern about the humanitarian situation, they also urged the parties to act in accordance with international humanitarian law and to respect the OSCE Monitoring Mission.”

So to be blunt: Any solution to this horrendous situation needs to be a win-win for both sides. Russia, being next door, is in a very strong position military, and can keep this conflict going forever, unless the West decides to go to war with Moscow, which is not happening.

Perhaps some type of non-alignment pledge from Ukraine would be in order, while Kyiv could be fortified with its own enhanced military capability to ensure its own territorial integrity. Perhaps this could give Russia some incentive to stop the killing, and pressure the separatists to go down the Minsk road.

Perhaps even exiled, former Ukrainian President Yanukovych could speak from his gilded residence outside of Moscow and opine on the situation in Donbass. He is from the region, and could “suggest” the separatists cooperate with the international community and end the conflict.

For if a solution is not found, many more families will get heartache under the Christmas tree again this time next year.

Originally posted at The Washington Times

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