Czech MSF head says Luhansk ban will have huge impact on civilian population

In der Volksrepublik Lugansk (Foto: ČT24)

Separatist leaders in the Luhansk region, in Eastern Ukraine, have ordered UN agencies and close to a dozen humanitarian aid groups out of the region, citing "grave violations" of local laws. Among those who have been forced to pack their bags are People in Need and Doctors Without Borders(MSF). I spoke to the head of the Czech branch of MSF, Pavel Gruber, and first asked about the reasons given.

Pavel Gruber, photo: Czech Television
“The violation we were accused of was that some psychotropic medicines were found in storage. However the only medicines we use are medicines approved by the World Health Organization and during our entire presence in the Luhansk region we coordinated all our activities with the health authorities, we reported what we do. Obviously a big part of our programme concerns mental health and psychotropic medicines are essential for their treatment.”

So what do you think is the real reason behind this move?

“I really cannot say, it would be pure speculation on my part. What I can say it that we are really alarmed by the decision and find it really unacceptable and terrifying because with the upcoming winter we were one of the few organizations providing medical assistance and now the people will simply loose that assistance. So whatever the real reasons are – and I can only speculate about that – the impact on the civilian population will be huge.”

How long can this situation last for before there is a humanitarian crisis?

“Well, one must keep in mind that the majority of people who stayed in the region are those most vulnerable, elderly people, disabled people, people with mobility problems, and these people often have chronic health problems, such as hypertension, diabetes, and in the Luhansk region medication is hard to get and the price has really increased, so the people will lose access to these medications. If you ask about the numbers – in the last few years we operated mobile clinics in 35 locations and overall we provided 42,000 primary health care consultations. We have also been supporting 109 health and social facilities in the Luhansk region with medical supplies.”

Luhansk, photo: Czech Television
The International Red Cross is the only organization that has been allowed to stay. Can you get help in via the Red Cross, or by some other means, to prevent a humanitarian crisis?

“Well MSF traditionally cooperates closely with the Red Cross so it is only natural that we will stay in touch with them and see if there is any chance of supporting their operations and we will see what the development will be. In any armed conflict where we operate we always talk to both sides of the conflict, try to explain what we do, try to explain our principles of neutrality and impartiality so that they understand that our only aim is to treat people. So obviously we will try to continue communication with the authorities, find out the real reason for this situation and try to look for solutions because access to patients is key for us.”