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Ukraine: The war of humanitarian double standards

This article provides an analysis of some considerations for humanitarian action, through the lens of the response to the war in Ukraine.

The war in Ukraine, ongoing in 2022, has led to intense levels of suffering for the population, including civilians wounded and killed, families trying to flee to safer areas, and highly vulnerable persons staying in areas amongst heavily destroyed infrastructure and little available services. In response to this difficult situation, there are many actors who have put in place humanitarian action to assist them. Amongst the many needs identified, MSF is responding with medical humanitarian programs to support hospitals, doctors, nurses, and volunteer and civil society organizations. The challenges to access the most in need of medical attention are complex, requiring continued commitment and support from all those involved. And while this crucial work continues and is a priority, we in addition take a step back to elicit a reflection on the humanitarian action in Ukraine and consider how this compares to populations in other areas of the world facing armed conflict. With this lens, we see that some actions around the Ukraine armed conflict create double standards in terms of the type and quantity of humanitarian response provided.

The war in Ukraine has produced an immense reaction of solidarity with the population that is suffering. In Europe, this reaction is also explained by the perception of geographical, cultural, and socio-economic proximity in comparison to further-off populations facing armed conflict. While these are natural emotions, we must in our human solidarity consider all those who are vulnerable and suffering in conflict. In prioritizing the concepts of impartiality and neutrality for humanitarian action, it allows actors to look objectively across the globe so to put in place meaningful assistance that can reach those most in need with the resources that accompany such an international response. In this sense, solidarity, impartiality, and neutrality can be in tension with each other. Looking at the conflict in Ukraine and the responses to it, we see examples of such tensions come into play and hope that in pointing to them we can find solutions to improve.

These lines will focus on five double standards that demonstrate some of the many challenges that exist in providing fair and meaningful humanitarian aid around the world to those most in need. The double standards presented here cover the areas of media attention, due attention to refugees, humanitarian sector response, protection of civilians, and the bombing of hospitals.

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