UNITED NATIONS – The United Nations humanitarian chief said Thursday he is alarmed that U.N. agencies have been ordered out of eastern Ukraine's separatist-controlled Luhansk region by the "de facto authorities" there.
Stephen O'Brien's statement said the U.N. agencies have been told to end operations and leave by Friday, and several international non-governmental organizations have been told to leave the region by Saturday.
It is rare that U.N. agencies are ordered to cease operations in a country or region.
Russian-backed separatists occupied parts of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions in eastern Ukraine after rebels began fighting government forces in April 2014. Earlier this month, the U.N. human rights agency said at least 7,962 people have died in the conflict.
O'Brien's statement does not name the NGOs being ordered out, though Medecins Sans Frontieres issued a separate statement Thursday saying it was "extremely concerned" by the move. MSF said it has closed its office in Lugansk.
The U.N. humanitarian chief ordered the "immediate resumption of U.N. and international NGO activities."
U.N. operations in Donetsk are also in peril, O'Brien said. "A decision by the de facto authorities in Donetsk on the U.N.'s future operations remains on hold, and all U.N. agency operations have been suspended," his statement says. The MSF statement said it continues its work in Donetsk.
O'Brien called the failure of authorities in the separatist-dominated regions to allow humanitarian access "a blatant violation of international humanitarian law."
Humanitarian shipments to rebel-held areas of Ukraine have been curtailed since July because of new rules imposed by the rebels that require aid groups to register before they can operate there. The U.N. is concerned that 1.4 million Ukrainians are internally displaced or have become refugees.
O'Brien said the order for U.N. agencies to leave "follows the de facto authorities' rejection of applications by U.N. agencies and all international NGOs working in Luhansk to work in the area."
O'Brien said the restrictions on humanitarian shipments have kept about 16,000 tons of supplies, including food and shelter from being delivered. "Hospitals cannot perform surgery because they lack anesthesia," he said. "Some 150,000 people are not receiving monthly food distributions."
He said the suspension of shipments is putting lives at risk and is "having a serious impact on some 3 million people as winter approaches."