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Ukraine: Donetsk Water Workers Under Gunfire Attack Four Times In March; 345,000 Depend on Beleaguered Filtration Plant; UN Official Described Action as Violation of International Humanitarian Law

DONETSK, Ukraine

As of April 3, the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) reports that its Special Monitoring Mission (SMM) continued to facilitate safe access for workers to and from the Donetsk Filtration Station; it also facilitated repairs to the Petrivske pumping station near Artema and to a water pipeline near Zaitseve. On the night of 2-3 April, an SMM camera at the Donetsk Filtration Station recorded 15 projectiles in flight from west to east 1-3km south.

OOSKAnews coverage of the struggle over Donetsk’s water supply can be found here.

A senior United Nations official recently called on all parties in the Ukraine conflict to protect civilian water treatment workers in the east of the country following gunfire attacks on maintenance workers at the beleaguered Donetsk water filtration facility.

“I am deeply concerned that water treatment workers and critical infrastructure continue to be targeted in eastern Ukraine’s armed conflict”, said Neal Walker, UN Resident Coordinator and Humanitarian Coordinator in Ukraine, in a March 14 statement which described “targeting of civilian infrastructure and intentional disruption of access to water supply or heating systems (as) a violation of international humanitarian law”.

During a period of 8 days in March, workers seeking to maintain the Donetsk Filter Station have been shot at on four separate occasions. Water supply to more than 345,000 civilians in the region is threatened.

According to a March 13 UNICEF WASH Cluster report a truck on its way back from Donetsk Filter Station (DFS) after delivering Sodium Hypochlorite (a chemical used in water treatment), was fired upon by small arms March 13, about 100 meters outside main entrance of the Station. “Only by chance none of the bullets hit the truck, and the driver sped up to get away from the firing and to get further away from the Line of Contact as quickly as possible”.

Later the same day a bus carrying 30 workers home from the DFS was also fired upon in the same location. There were no injuries, but the bus sustained bullet damage to windows.

These were the third and fourth incidents in 7 days (all in March 2018), when civilian vehicles, with (utility) Voda Donbasa’s signage were fired upon.

UNICEF described the incidents as “making the operation and maintenance of this key facility increasingly difficult. All employees and management of Voda Donbasa are extremely worried by this development, and it is possible the Filter Station may not be able to function much longer under such pressure”.

Donetsk Filter Station supplies water to the following settlements: Avdiivka, Kruta Balka, Vasylivka, Mineralne, Yakovlivka, Verkhniotoretske, part of Yasynuvata and western areas of Donetsk city.

“It is clear that any targeting of civilian infrastructure and intentional disruption of access to water supply or heating systems is a violation of international humanitarian law”, Neal Walker’s statement added.

“The operation of the facility relies on the safe and unfettered access for the technicians, who risk their lives on a daily basis so water continues to flow to 345,000 people affected by the conflict”, adding that given Ukraine’s harsh winter, any interruption of water supply or inter-dependent heating systems could generate severe humanitarian consequences.