EU helps to protect civilians in conflict zone

Ukrainian Army introduces new standards for the protection of the civilian population. From January this year, a team for collecting and summarizing information on casualties or injuries among civilians has begun its work in the conflict zone in Donbas. The team’s goal is not just to record such cases, but also to analyze this information. This will help prevent such losses in the future.

Yana Liubymova’s native city is Kadiivka, former Stakhanov. Since 2014, this locality is under the control of militants from the LNR group. In 2015, the woman moved to Starobilsk and founded a civic organization that provides assistance to IDPs. In addition, Yana is a member of the “IDP Advisor” programme: in Luhansk Oblast, she provides advisory, organizational and other necessary assistance not only to those affected by the conflict, but also to public authorities dealing with such people.

Yana Liubymova’s experience gained during the war is her own story, and the story of those she helps. When I ask whether the relationship between military and civilian in the conflict zone has changed, she replies in the affirmative.

Building destroyed by shelling, Opytne (Donetsk Oblast)

“Definitely, and, in my opinion, for the better. A simple example: when I travel to the delimitation line, I see the locals from remote villages coming to entry-exit checkpoints and asking the military for some help – that is, the communication exists”, she says. – There is much concern about those localities where there is continuing shelling. People are afraid of war. And the presence of the military is perceived as something that can provoke an intensification of hostilities.”


Experience has already been tested in Afghanistan

In 2016, the international non-governmental organization Center for Civilians in Conflict (CIVIC) conducted a study and presented the report “We are Afraid of the Silence.” The organization’s representatives communicated with the residents of localities in the conflict zone and with IDPs. It turned out that the greatest fears of people are artillery shelling, mines and abuses of the civilian population by military units on both sides of the delimitation line (for example, threats of using weapons against civilians, robbery of abandoned property and other violations of international humanitarian law and human rights).

“We began to think about how to address these challenges,” Yelyzaveta Baran, Head of the CIVIC Office in Ukraine says. – So, in 2017, we completed a comprehensive survey of all government security and defense sector structures to see what civilian assistance mechanisms there are and make recommendations on what can be improved”.

“These were the security forces that we were focused on”, Serhii Dioma, Senior Military Advisor to the CIVIC Office adds. – Historically, since the foundation in 2003, our organization was engaged in persuading the coalition forces in Iraq and Afghanistan that protection of civilians is a very important part of military operations.”

Ten years ago during the ISAF (International Security Assistance Force) operation in Afghanistan, CIVIC has supported the creation of a monitoring structure within the ISAF forces’ military structures that would collect data on what the civilians are suffering during the conflict, analyze them and would have an impact on changes in military practices, and in 2014 CIVIC published a report on the results of such team’s work.

“This approach has helped reduce the number of casualties and injuries among civilians – precisely because of the analysis of what happened,” Serhii Dioma says. – For instance, at one checkpoint people died at the time. We decided to analyze why. It turned out that the checkpoint was built incorrectly: cars came out from around the corner, and the military opened fire if the car did not stop before them in time. The checkpoint was rebuilt and the number of victims in this area immediately went down.”

A woman stands at the exit from the shelter, Luhansk Oblast

It was decided to apply the experience of such a team in Ukraine. In late 2017, CIVIC launched a large-scale project “Building Capacity for the Protection of Civilians in the East of Ukraine” financed by the European Union through the EU Instrument contributing to Stability and Peace (IcSP). It operates in several countries affected by the conflict, in particular – from 2014 – in Ukraine.


Nozdrachov: formally the Armed Forces of Ukraine had nothing to do with the protection of civilians

Oleksii Nozdrachov, Head of Department for Civil-Military Cooperation of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, admits that he initially was skeptical about the CIVIC’s idea to launch a monitoring team. “Because after the outbreak of the conflict in the east of Ukraine it became clear that the Ukrainian Armed Forces have no such function as protection of the civilian population,”  he says.

Key laws on the General Staff’s functions are the Laws “On the Defense of Ukraine” and “On the Armed Forces of Ukraine”. “Lawyers will tell you that the Armed Forces are not responsible for protecting the civilian population in the areas of conflict,” Nozdrachov noted. This is the responsibility of the State Emergency Service. But, as it turned out after the outbreak of the conflict in Donbas, its capabilities are quite limited in the ​​hostilities area.

Oleksii Nozdrachov

The war began, and the military were first who saw that without winning the minds and hearts of the civilian population, without protecting them, without the elimination of a humanitarian catastrophe this war could not be won“, Oleksii Nozdrachov says.

In January 2019, the President of Ukraine, Petro Poroshenko, approved a new Regulation on the General Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, and by this decree, in particular, the civil-military cooperation was included in the functions of the General Staff.

Civil-military cooperation (CIMIC) as a pilot area was introduced in the Armed Forces of Ukraine in 2014. The specialists in this area have become so to say intermediaries between the Armed Forces and the civilian population, on the one hand, and between the Armed Forces and local authorities, on the other hand. CIMIC officers, for example, help deliver humanitarian goods to front-line territories: food, clothes, books. Or they organize mine safety classes at schools (because of hostilities in the east, Ukraine is now one of the most mine-studded territories in the world). Sometimes the work in the opposite direction also happens: recently, the volunteers from Severodonetsk handed over five hundred homemade cakes to the frontline through CIMIC.

A resident of Toretsk often left without water


The chance of understanding

Only in late 2018, after long-term preparation, a team for collecting and summarizing information on casualties or injuries among civilians was set up in the Armed Forces of Ukraine.

The key functions of the newly formed team are laid down in its very name. In essence, this is a recording of injuries or casualties among civilians in the conflict zone (more precisely, in the part where the Ukrainian military have access). Among the team members are an officer specializing in humanitarian assistance matters, and an officer who is knowledgeable in mine action. The team should report regularly to the Commander of the Joint Forces. But it’s not just about statistics about casualties and injuries. Each month, the team should summarize the information gathered and, on the basis of these data, offer to the command of the Joint Forces Operation, the way how can such casualties or injuries among civilians be avoided in the future.

“Was this work done before? We have SES. We have National Police that has to record all casualties or injuries and put this information in the Unified Register of Pre-trial Investigations. We have local governments that, on their part, have to response. But until recently this was scattered. In particular, the military kept records only in the line of duty officers, but all this was pallid statistics”, Oleksii Nozdrachov, Head of Department for Civil-Military Cooperation says.

In addition, the UN Human Rights Monitoring Mission has been and continues to keep records of those affected in the conflict zone in eastern Ukraine since its outbreak in 2014. Head of the Mission, Fiona Fraser, has already welcomed the setting up of a new team within the Armed Forces of Ukraine.

The work of the new team should have an impact on the way the Ukrainian military are conducting operations, Helga Pender, Sectoral Manager of East Recovery Programmes of the EU Delegation to Ukraine, says.

“It’s about the need to reduce civilian casualties. One more reason why Ukrainian military should be interested in this is good relations with civilians in the government -controlled territories in Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts. For you to be perceived as the one who helps, who is on the civilians’ side, and not the one who does harm”, Helga Pender says.

She also reminds of Ukraine’s Euro-Atlantic aspirations and the standards that the Ukrainian Army should introduce, and adhere to them in order to realize these aspirations.

Creation of a mural on a residential building in Avdiivka


The next step is state policy

“Here is the standard we are introducing – Oleksii Nozdrachov demonstrates the Allied Joint Doctrine for Civil-Military Cooperation. – One of the requirements of this standard is the protection of the civilian population. Thus, we not only introduce a new system for ourselves, but also achieve compatibility with NATO Member States.

In the NATO itself, the Policy for Protection of Civilians, – that is, a strategic vision of how the alliance should work in this direction – was adopted only in 2016. The participants of the EU project are hoping to develop and approve a strategy for protection of civilians in the near future.

“An integrated approach agreed between all agencies should be applied to the protection of civilians”, Yelyzaveta Baran says. – We do not see this yet. Each ministry has its own assistance programmes for victims, some individual initiatives that are not united by a common understanding of where to go, who is the coordinator of these efforts. That is why the work is carried out now on creating such a national strategy.”

In Oleksii Nozdrachov’s opinion, the first step towards the preparation of such a document is setting up a team for collecting and summarizing information on casualties or injuries among civilians and the future results of its work. “We hope that this project will be successful enough that it will grow into the orders of the Minister of Defense and the Chief of the General Staff, which would introduce the system for the protection of civilians and that ultimately the executive and legislative authorities will be able to approve the state policy based on the experience of our pilot project”, he says.

The project expires in spring this year. But, as Helga Pender from the EU Delegation tells us, she does not rule out that it will be extended. “Experience shows that changes in Ukraine require time,” she says.

By Olena Removska