Ukraine: Corridors are not enough for civilians and humanitarian aid

The city of Mariupol is among the areas now heavily affected by the war in Ukraine. Multiple staff members of Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) are sheltering in the city with their families. One staff member gave the following account on 5 March:

“The situation is the same as in recent days. Last night the shelling was harder and closer. We collected snow and rain water yesterday to have some water. We tried to get free water today but the queue was huge. We also wanted to get bread [from social organisations] but it is not clear what is the schedule and where are the places of distribution.”

“According to people, multiple grocery stores were destroyed by missiles and the remaining things were taken by people in desperate need. There is still no power, water, heating or mobile connection. No one has heard about any evacuation yet. Pharmacies are out of medicine,” our staff member concludes.

Following the soul-wrenching reports, we are closely following the ongoing reports about an agreement for safe passage of civilians this weekend.

It is vital that such opportunities for civilians to escape from areas of violent warfare are not one off and time limited offers. In MSF, we know how dangerous this can be for civilians who are not able or willing to leave, including medical staff that choose to remain to take care of sick and wounded.

Every situation is different, but in our decades of experience working in situations of war we know that one-off humanitarian corridors can be helpful but are not enough. Several times we have witnessed civilians encouraged to leave through time-bound civilian evacuation corridors, and then… those who could not or would not flee were met with extraordinary and indiscriminate violence unleashed on everyone and everything left behind. As a result, many people were killed or maimed, including many medics and other civilians.

- Stephen Cornish, General Director of MSF

MSF calls for the rules of war to be observed by all the military fighting in this war in Ukraine – to take all precautions to avoid harming civilians and to consider civilians as civilians at all times and in all places in Ukraine. Safe passage for those willing and able to escape should be urgently assured in Mariupol and across war affected areas inside Ukraine, regardless of the existence of humanitarian corridors or ceasefires that may temporarily be put in be in place. For those that stay behind, they cannot lose their civilian status; the warring parties must do all in their power to prevent harm to civilians at all times, in all places.

MSF supports any kind of ceasefire initiatives that allows safer passage for those wanting to flee and for medical and other humanitarian assistance to enter, but the right to seek safety and access for humanitarian aid should be an obligation and not a privilege, everywhere in Ukraine.