A resident of the Artema suburb of Sloviansk, Ukraine, in the rubble of what used to be her summer kitchen, in July 2014. Photo: UNHCR/Iva Zimova

The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) is rolling out its first operation in Ukraine, providing food assistance to vulnerable people affected by the conflict with distributions in transit centres and public shelters in Donetsk and Luhansk in the country’s east.

Since the beginning of September, WFP in cooperation with local partners has distributed food boxes containing ready-to-eat canned food such as meat, fish, vegetables as well as biscuits, jam and tea. So far, 10,000 daily rations, enough to feed 2,000 people for five days, have been distributed, the agency said in a news release.

“The fighting in the last few months, primarily in the cities of Luhansk and Donetsk and surrounding areas, has significantly disrupted access to food and basic services,” said Carlo Scaramella, WFP Deputy Regional Director for the Middle East, North Africa, Central Asia and East Europe.

Mr. Scaramella said that while many have remained in these areas, thousands of other families have fled their homes at short notice, often without anything even for the journey.

WFP plans to scale up its operations, launched at the request of the Ukrainian Government, to a total of 90,000 daily rations, which would feed more than 18,000 people for five days, before the end of the month.

Assistance is being delivered to mainly internally displaced people with serious medical conditions, pregnant women, nursing mothers, the elderly and large, vulnerable families.

“We have procured the food for distribution to those most in need locally to try to inject money into the local economy and we plan to launch a food voucher project that will boost local markets in areas where markets are still functioning properly,” said Mr. Scaramella.

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By mid-October, up to 10,000 displaced people will receive WFP’s food vouchers – worth nearly $500,000 – allowing them to choose and purchase food available in their own communities.

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has officially counted over 310,000 internally displaced people in Ukraine. The total numbers may be at least double that.

While a fragile ceasefire is now in place in the eastern region, WFP says the situation remains extremely volatile and unpredictable. The agency and its partners are preparing to increase their assistance in view of recent fighting in the southern coast around Novoazovsk and Mariupol and because winter is approaching.

WFP plans to launch an emergency operation in Ukraine that could feed as many as 120,000 people over the next six months at a cost of $15 million.

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