GENEVA - U.N. officials say a cease-fire that took effect in July in eastern Ukraine appears to be holding and has resulted in a significant drop in civilian casualties.
The cease-fire between the Ukrainian government and Russian-backed separatists is giving rise to hope that the period of relative calm, the longest since the conflict began in April 2014, might result in a permanent peace.
The conflict, which broke out after Russia's illegal annexation of the Crimean Peninsula, has killed more than 13,000 people.
Since the cease-fire began July 27, the U.N. Human Rights Monitoring Mission in Ukraine says security incidents in eastern Ukraine have dropped by 53 percent. It adds there has been an even larger reduction in civilian casualties.
Jens Laerke, spokesman for the U.N. Organization for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, says security incidents have dropped from 533 in July to 251 in August, and five civilian casualties were reported in August compared with 13 the previous month.
'Sense of normality'
"Our colleagues in Ukraine tell us that this improvement has given people on both sides of the 'contact line' that divides eastern Ukraine a sense of normality and people hope that it will become sustainable," he said. "But they also report that up till now, they have not observed changes in terms of humanitarian access that could lead to a scaling up of humanitarian work, and that is largely due to restrictions imposed in response to COVID-19."
Laerke notes all five official crossing points were closed in late March because of the coronavirus pandemic. He says two have since reopened. However, he says crossings across the contact line are largely limited to those granted humanitarian exemptions.
The Ukrainian government stopped funding government services in areas controlled by rebels in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions when the conflict began. People living there are required to register as displaced people and cross the contact line into government-controlled areas to receive benefits.
That is creating hardships for elderly people, especially those who are ill and disabled. The U.N. calculates up to 1.2 million people are unable to receive their pensions and social benefits because they cannot cross the contact line to obtain them.