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Water under fire in Europe’s forgotten war

Meet the unlikely humanitarians providing a vital supply to those on Ukraine’s front line as the war on the EU's doorstep enters a seventh year.

Liudmila Vasilievna, who lives in Aviidka Frederick Gillingham/TNH
Liudmila Vasilievna, who lives in Aviidka, in the government-controlled part of the Donetsk region of eastern Ukraine.

Six years after conflict erupted in April 2014 between Russian-backed separatists and the Ukrainian military in eastern Ukraine, the war makes few headlines but isn’t over: more than 13,000 people have been killed and tens of thousands wounded – many of them civilians.

Hundreds of thousands of the 1.4 million Ukrainians displaced by the conflict remain without homes and living in frontline areas. Many of these are elderly people who have to cross the so-called “contact line” regularly to pick up government pensions and medical supplies.

Recently, Ukrainian and Russian political leaders have made overtures about seeking a negotiated solution, but genuine progress towards peace remains elusive, and February and March 2020 have seen renewed unrest and skirmishes.

Read more → The women of Ukraine's festering war

Ukraine’s conflict disproportionately affects elderly people, and aid groups have for years been treating thousands for hypertension, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease – all underlying conditions that make older people in particular more vulnerable to COVID-19.

Late last year video journalist Frederick Gillingham travelled to frontline areas in Ukraine’s eastern Donbass region and gained access to the operations of some unlikely humanitarian workers: employees of the state utility company Voda Donbasa.

His film not only shows how this group of volunteer workers risks life and limb to keep services going in areas where land mines and shelling are constant threats, but it also offers a glimpse into the hardships of civilian life in an interminable conflict on the EU’s doorstep.

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