The International Red Cross (ICRC) on Saturday called on Ukraine and eastern pro-Russian rebels to spare critical civilian infrastructure in the region, warning that a recent intensification of fighting once again risks the halting of essential services.

“In the last two days, at least two major pumping stations both in the Donetsk region and serving more than one million people on either side of the line of contact with potable water, including hospitals and other crucial services, were rendered inoperable by the hostilities,” the ICRC said in a statement.

Donetsk is one of the two self-proclaimed republics in eastern Ukraine, along with Luhansk. Together, they make up the region known as Donbas.

“We are very concerned about the developments in eastern Ukraine over the past few days,” Florence Gillette, the head of the ICRC’s delegation in Ukraine, was quoted in the statement.

The call came as British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss told the Munich Security Conference that the world needs to prepare for the “worst-case scenario” of a Russian invasion of Ukraine as early as next week.

Active hostilities along the Line of Contact forced the ICRC to temporarily suspend activities at refreshment stations they run on both sides of the Stanytsia Luhanska Crossing Point, where people can warm up while queuing to cross.

“We also had to suspend several trips organized by our teams to deliver aid in localities on both sides of the line of contact,” said the Red Cross.

Civilian infrastructure

“Civilian infrastructure providing essential services, and civilian personnel who operate, maintain and repair that infrastructure are protected under International Humanitarian Law,” underlined the statement.

Gillette reminded all sides that, in military operations, constant care must be taken to spare civilians and civilian objects.

The ICRC called on the sides to spare infrastructure essential for the population’s survival and respect principles of distinction, proportionality, and precaution.

“Communities in eastern Ukraine bear the brunt of eight long years of conflict, and we really hope that they won’t have to endure more suffering,” Gillette said.

The Red Cross said that since the conflict began in 2014, hostilities in eastern Ukraine have regularly left towns, villages, and rural communities on either side of the contact line without essential water, gas, or power for days or weeks on end.

Without urgent action to protect essential services in areas where the hostilities occur, large-scale humanitarian implications are expected, said the Red Cross.

The Geneva-based ICRC was set up in 1863 to protect and assist victims of armed conflict and promote understanding and respect for international humanitarian law.

Western countries have accused Russia of amassing more than 100,000 troops near Ukraine, prompting fears that it could be planning a military offensive against its ex-Soviet neighbor.

Moscow has repeatedly denied any plan to invade Ukraine and accused Western countries of undermining Russia’s security through NATO’s expansion toward its borders.

It also issued a list of security demands to the West, including a rollback of troop deployments from some ex-Soviet states and guarantees that Ukraine and Georgia would not join NATO.

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