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UNICEF Says 1 Million Children In Eastern Ukraine Require Urgent Aid

Local children leave a bomb shelter they had been using as living quarters after their homes were destroyed in shelling not far from the front line in Donetsk, eastern Ukraine. (file photo)

The United Nations says the number of children in urgent need of humanitarian aid in eastern Ukraine has nearly doubled during the past year to 1 million.

The UN's agency for children, UNICEF, said in a report on February 17 that the crisis is the result of the "steady deterioration" of life in eastern Ukraine, where an estimated 1.7 million people have been internally displaced by the volatile conflict in the region.

More than 9,750 people have been killed since fighting broke out in eastern Ukraine in March 2014 between Russia-backed separatists and Ukrainian government forces.

UNICEF said many families have lost their sources of income, social benefits, and access to health care at a time when the cost of living has increased substantially.

"This is an invisible emergency -- a crisis most of the world has forgotten,' said Giovanna Barberis, the UNICEF representative in Ukraine.

"Children in eastern Ukraine have been living under the constant threat of unpredictable fighting and shelling for the past three years," Barberis said. "Their schools have been destroyed, they have been forced from their homes, and their access to basic commodities like heat and water has been cut off."

The UN organization said the situation is "particularly grave" for an estimated 200,000 children living within 15 kilometers from each side of the so-called "contact line" in eastern Ukraine.

The contact line divides areas controlled by the government and nongovernment forces, and it is where fighting is the fiercest.

UNICEF once again calls for all sides to immediately recommit to the cease-fire signed in Minsk in 2015 and to respect international humanitarian law, including allowing unrestricted humanitarian access.

It urged the sides to allow unrestricted access for groups that provide humanitarian assistance.

"After three horrific years, children in eastern Ukraine urgently need lasting peace so that their unnecessary suffering ends," Barberis said.

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