Humanitarian Coordinator for Ukraine Denise Brown remarks at the launch of the 2023 Humanitarian Response Plan
15 February 2023
I have to start with what you already know, because it is so important and because I am there, in Ukraine, day in and day out, and I am a witness to what is going on. Soldiers are not the only ones dying in this war. Civilians have lost and continue to lose their lives. This includes the lives of children. This includes the lives of the elderly who stay behind in their communities. These are the most vulnerable who are dying also in this war.
Civilians have lost and continue to lose their homes, their belongings, their livelihoods their family members. In the front-line communities that we go to there is sometimes this overwhelming sense of loss that permeates the air. But at the same time, there is this overwhelming sense of determination, both Filippo and Martin have mentioned this.
Civilian infrastructure is being targeted and this is a violation of international humanitarian law. And I can say that because I see it: hospitals, schools and energy infrastructure. And don't forget, we can talk about a building being destroyed, a hospital, and a heating plant but that affects millions of people, including millions of children. The hospital in Vovchansk in Kharkiv, which I visited a couple of weeks ago, was targeted two times last week. [It is] serving a community that stayed behind – that was the reason it was targeted. Millions of Ukrainians, including children, currently live – and we have heard it already today – without adequate access to electricity, water, and heating, in the dead of winter. I was back in Kherson city last Wednesday, it was my fifth trip there. The main heating pipes were hit twice the morning that I was there, and it was -5 degrees, with a wind that was really chilling our bones, and we were only there a few hours.
And yet, and we know it, we all say it, the people of Ukraine remain strong and continue to build, to rebuild, but as the ambassador just said, continue to need our support.
So my first point is that the humanitarian needs are increasing. I am afraid they are not decreasing because there are different dimensions to this crisis, and as the front line moves - the needs increase.
We have all heard about the war appearing to intensify in the east, in the Donbass over the past week, particularly in Donetsk, so we should be prepared for additional displacements of civilians. There is daily shelling in the east in Kharkiv, in Dnipro - relentless shelling, that each time hits civilian infrastructure. And the air strikes are pretty much daily in Kyiv and Odesa, so we are all affected.
I think the request for more tanks and stronger air defense systems is pretty good signal that the war continues, and that the needs of the Ukrainian people are there and continue. But I want to emphasize, I think it is such an important point, and Martin said it, it does not undermine meeting the needs elsewhere. A child who suffers – anywhere – is a child who needs our protection.
Second, this however does not mean that the humanitarian community has moved into Ukraine and will not leave. We have already begun discussions and work with the Minister of Social Policy on ensuring a transfer of the multipurpose cash humanitarian caseload where those needs continue. It will take some time, but we have had that conversation with the Government, the Member States, the UN agencies, NGOs – and we are working on this together. I think a good guest knows when to leave, so we are not leaving yet, but we are preparing for that eventual departure, when the time is right. And we will make that decision with the Government.
Thirdly, yesterday on Monday in the senior officials meeting in Brussels we discussed extensively localization. I heard a lot about what everyone thinks we are not doing. And of course, it is imperative, that the people who responded first, who were the volunteers – it was not the UN, it was the volunteer organizations who are still there – that their knowledge, their outreach be coupled with our collective capacity for advocacy and delivery at scale. If you have ever the opportunity to visit Kharkiv, Kherson, Sumy, or Zaporizhzhia which both Filippo and Martin have, and of course, the Ambassador knows, you will see the humanitarian hubs that are there, and this is underpinning our new humanitarian response plan. So it is a location where you find the volunteers, the local authorities, the UN agencies, the NGOs to support the people who come with legal support, with food, with medical attention, with the psychosocial support that is so urgently required. We are not doing it everywhere, but we are doing it in those locations.
Also, I allocated in December US$20 million from the Ukrainian Humanitarian Fund to 13 NGO partners who are funneling that to 300 volunteer organizations. Because our systems are way too complicated, onerous administrative bureaucratic procedures, but now they have access through the 13 partners, who take on the burden of the reporting and the monitoring. We will be evaluating this, to see how it goes, and Martin has been asking if he could deploy this in other situations. And we think yes. So this is the new face of localization. I get very frustrated when I read about ‘where the UN vehicles that we should be seeing up along the front line?’ You are looking for the wrong thing. White UN vehicles and NGO vehicles driving around as a sign of a humanitarian response to scale is an outdated indicator. I am not sure everyone understands that.
I have also to say, I did not say it to Martin yet, but I do think our humanitarian architecture is elitist – you need to know the lingo, you need to know how to be part of the club. So we are opening that up. But give us a little time, please. We are in a war, there are daily air strikes, we are imperfect, but we recognize what we need to do.
Fourth, the humanitarian response plan reflects the different dimensions of the collective work of the humanitarian community. Our critical importance right now is the front-line response. That front-line response is for me the most important thing. We are inching towards that front line with inter-agency convoys. This is work – and I must say, I am pushing the UN agencies very hard – we have to do this ourselves, alongside the NGO partners. We cannot transfer the risk to the local organizations. It is difficult, it is complicated, it is dangerous. We are trying to reach every single one of the 53 communities within 20 kilometres of the front line. We started in November, it is a difficult work, but we are managing to do that. We are delivering supplies and we are delivering the message, that the international community – we are there, with the people who stayed behind. There is no greater message.
What is not happening at scale, or in any consistent way, is reaching people on the other side of the front line. No, I do not have data, because we do not have access, but believe me when I say, that what happens on one side of the front line is exactly the same thing, as on the other side of the front line.
We consistently request access across the front line. Humanitarian notification system – Ukrainians consistently respond ‘yes’, and the Russian [Federation] consistently respond ‘no’. It is just a fact. It is just a fact, it is not my extrapolation. But the needs are there, and that is why we have included it into the Humanitarian Response Plan. This is Ukrainian territory, the UN does not recognize the annexation by Russia. We require access, it is a matter of principle, and it is a legal matter as well. So we need to deploy, as we discussed, in the Senior Official Meeting, we need to strengthen our humanitarian diplomacy, we need the support of Member States – becomes a political issue, not something I can solve on my own, so this is really a plea to you to assist us with this.
Humanitarian Plus approach is very much there, and everyone loves the bakeries in Mykolaiv, but we also have agricultural demining, the databases of the houses to repair, rebuilding hospitals, schools, vouchers for grocery stores - it is humanitarian plus, we are stepping in on humanitarian plus.
Let me just finish by thanking the Government of Ukraine with whom we have a very constructive relationship. Thank you very much, Ambassador, the Member States, the foundations for their outstanding support in 2022, and the people of Ukraine are counting on you in 2023. Thank you.
Since 2019, Ms. Brown served as Deputy Special Representative for the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA), and as United Nations Resident Coordinator and Humanitarian Coordinator.
Prior to this, she worked at the World Food Programme (WFP) headquarters in Rome, first as Director of the Emergency Preparedness and Supportive Response Division and then as Director of Policy and Programmes.
From 2013 to 2016, Ms. Brown was WFP's Director for West and Central Africa, based in Dakar, Senegal, serving 20 countries. She spent most of her career in the field with WFP, covering a range of situations in Afghanistan, Iraq, Kenya, Niger, and Somalia. She has also worked with non-governmental organizations in Haiti and Cambodia. Ms. Brown has also served in New York.
Ms. Denise Brown holds a master’s degree in Children’s Development from Purdue University in the United States.
She is fluent in English and French.