In Ukraine, Humanitarian Crisis Must Be Prevented | Opinion

If Russia were to invade Ukraine, it would lead to a massive humanitarian crisis in eastern Europe. The U.S. and allies must convince Russian President Vladimir Putin to withdraw his troops from Ukraine's border.

An estimated 100,000 Russian troops are at the ready to invade Ukraine. "Our view is this is an extremely dangerous situation. We're now at a stage where Russia could at any point launch an attack in Ukraine," White House spokesperson Jen Psaki said. Pope Francis has called for Jan. 26 to be a day of prayer for peace for Ukraine.

A diplomatic solution is urgently needed to prevent an escalating child hunger and refugee crisis in Ukraine. Putin's aggression could threaten the lives of thousands of children, the charity Save the Children warned.

"Save the Children is gravely concerned for children who might be caught in the middle of this armed conflict, forced from their homes in sub-zero temperatures, and exposed to injury, hunger and cold. Children must be protected from harm at all times," Irina Saghoyan, Save the Children's Eastern Europe director, pleaded.

It's vital we remember that eastern Ukraine is already reeling from years of conflict between the government and Russian backed rebels. Nearly 3 million people in Ukraine need humanitarian assistance right now. This dire situation will get much worse, and even more civilians will be impacted and need aid should Russian troops invade.

Many hungry and cold civilians live near the line of contact in eastern Ukraine, separating rebel held areas from those controlled by the government. It's a silent humanitarian crisis, largely ignored by the world. The charity CARE called Ukraine one of "'the most under-reported humanitarian crises of 2021." Ukraine's crisis with Russia might seem new for many of us, but it has been ongoing for years with the rebels' offensive. Charities like the International Committee of the Red Cross have been a lifeline for many war victims during this time.

The people of eastern Ukraine are pleading for a lasting peace settlement to end the fighting between the rebels and the government. Existing ceasefires are shaky.

Ukrainian servicemen are seen inside a vessel
Ukrainian servicemen are seen inside a vessel docked in the Azov Sea port of Mariupol on Dec. 2, 2018. GLEB GARANICH/AFP via Getty Images

"On my visits to eastern Ukraine, I hear people repeat the same plea over and over. They want hostilities to stop. They want not to fear for their lives any longer. On behalf of those whose voices often remain unheard, I call on parties to respect the ceasefire," said Osnat Lubrani, the United Nations Humanitarian Coordinator in Ukraine.

A true peace is needed. The last thing they need is Russia to send its army into Ukraine again. That will surely spiral Ukraine into a much deeper humanitarian tragedy of hunger and displacement. Where there is war, famine will follow. That is where Russia is leading its neighbor tragically toward.

The Russian people should also be very critical of President Putin, for it is the common man who will suffer. "It is going to be a disaster for Russia if they further ingra—invade Ukraine, and that our allies and partners are ready to impose severe costs and significant harm on Russia and the Russian economy," said President Joe Biden last week.

Biden further warned about casualties for Russia: "The cost of going into Ukraine, in terms of physical loss of life, for the Russians, they'll — they'll be able to prevail over time, but it's going to be heavy, it's going to be real, and it's going to be consequential."

For impoverished Russia, they can ill afford to put resources into military offensives that are completely unnecessary. Russia is not threatened with invasion by Ukraine or the NATO alliance, which only has small defensive forces in the region.

UNICEF in Ukraine
“Living in a conflict setting takes a devastating toll on the psychosocial well-being of an entire generation of children growing up in eastern Ukraine. Over 400,000 children are going to school near the ‘contact line,’ where shelling and extreme mine contamination threaten their lives and well-being,” said Lotta Sylwander, UNICEF representative in Ukraine. Photo Courtesy of UNICEF

Russia should begin to withdraw its troops from Ukraine's border, recognizing that there can be no victory in war with its neighbor—only prolonged suffering for both nations.

American and Russian negotiations should chart a road to peace to avert war.

William Lambers is an author who partnered with the U.N. World Food Program on the book Ending World Hunger. His writings have been published by The Washington Post, Chicago Sun Times, History News Network, Newsweek and many other news outlets.

The views expressed in this article are the writer's own.