Anti-separatist businessman keeps people alive in rebel-held Ukraine

16 July 2015

Aid from Ukraine’s richest oligarch is saving the lives of hundreds of thousands of people in Eastern Ukraine – according to new research from the Overseas Development Institute and IRIN.

The briefing, Uncommon bedfellows: local response to the crisis in Ukraine looks at the different – and unlikely – aid responders to the crisis in Donetsk and Luhansk. Many of the ‘traditional’ aid responders are working solely in government-held areas.

It finds that Rinat Akhmetov, Ukraine’s richest man with anti-separatist leanings, is one of the largest suppliers of aid to the East. His foundation’s aid activities operate out of his football stadium, Donbass Arena, home to FC Shakhtar Donetsk.

'Locals says they really appreciate the aid that comes from the Akhmetov Foundation, regardless of his political activities, which included holding an anti-separatist rally at the start of the conflict,' said Kristina Jovanovski, co-author of the briefing.

'One elderly resident said, 'We are alive thanks to Rinat Akhmetov',' she noted.

Some traditional aid organisations working in Eastern Ukraine partner and coordinate with the foundation, including the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and the World Food Programme (WFP).

Aid from the Russian side of the border is also reaching civilians, some from individuals with personal ties across the border. Aid goes towards soup kitchens, hospitals and schools.

But much of the aid response has been highly contested, with armed groups on different sides seeking to block aid, claiming it may be serving to support military aims.

'Traditional aid providers need to recognise the advantages these unlikely aid providers have in getting supplies to people in conflict zones like Ukraine, and could be doing more collectively if they decided to work with these atypical aid groups,' said Christina Bennett, Research Fellow with the Humanitarian Policy Group (HPG) at ODI and co-author of the Crisis Brief.

'But aid organisations also need to take every precaution to ensure distinction between aid for civilians, and aid provided for political and military gain.'

- Ends -

Notes to editors:

  • 17 July marks the one year since flight MH17 was shot down in eastern Ukraine.
  • Uncommon bedfellows: local response to the crisis in Ukraine’ was jointly produced by Integrated Regional Information Networks (IRIN) and ODI. Field reporting was conducted by IRIN in March/April 2015.
  • The first IRIN/HPG crisis brief was on the Islamic State and aid, released in December 2014.

To interview the report authors, contact Melanie Archer at [email protected] or +44 20 3817 0020.