War in Ukraine: “In Mariupol, we did not manage to deliver aid at all”, warns Doctors Without Borders

Augustin Augier, project manager for Doctors Without Borders, who is currently in Ukraine, explains on Saturday March 26 on franceinfo that the association “failed to deliver aid at all” in Mariupol since the beginning of the war in Ukraine, after France announced that it would soon carry out a humanitarian operation in the city, with Greece and Turkey, to allow the inhabitants to evacuate.

franceinfo: What role can France play in this operation?

Augustin Augier: We don’t have any more information today than what we have read in the press and the public declarations of the French state. What is certain is that it has been a city under siege since March 1st. We’ve been asking for people to have safe passage out of the city of Mariupol for weeks. There would remain about 100,000 people who have been under the bombs for a month now, without electricity, without water, without food, without access to healthcare. This is a particularly dramatic and unprecedented situation.

We are happy that other people are trying, like France, to negotiate access. We are waiting to see concretely what we will be able to do. We have teams that are ready right next to Mariupol as far as where we can advance in safe conditions, with trucks, medical equipment, the possibility of taking people out who want to. A convoy was already blocked three days ago. There are very concrete questions. How to have security guarantees from the belligerents? How to clean the mined road that allows the passage of cars but not large trucks? What interests us is to know what can be concretely done so that we can, on the one hand, get out people who want to, in priority the injured people, and on the other hand, for those who stay, to be able to enter care for them and bring medical equipment.

Emmanuel Macron must meet with Vladimir Putin to ensure operational protection during this humanitarian evacuation: is this an essential issue?

It is extremely complex to carry out this kind of operation. Very important security guarantees are needed, since we are in a heavy combat zone with permanent bombardments, ground troops who are fighting within Mariupol. To be able to carry out this operation, security guarantees are needed from the Russian and Ukrainian governments. If a third party like France or the United Nations is able to move this issue forward, that’s a very good thing. And beyond these guarantees, there are practical questions that must also be addressed, in particular the question of being able to take this road which today does not allow access to trucks.

Do you fear that the guarantees given for this evacuation will not be respected?

This has not always been the case, sometimes because there is no real intention of setting up this safe passage for the populations, sometimes because it is very complicated to implement in an environment in war. It is enough for one to shoot for the other to respond because they are in tension. It’s a complicated process. It is not enough to intend to do so. We have to get down to business. We are waiting and we hope that it will be able to move forward.

How many people can be evacuated?

It will depend on the guarantees. It will depend on whether the road can be cleared. We pass with cars or small trucks, not with big trucks. You can well imagine that it is not the same thing. Can we all get out? There are people who are not mobile, who do not have vehicles, elderly people who are confined to their homes.

Today, in Mariupol, we did not manage to deliver any aid at all. It’s very complicated. We did not succeed. In other cities that are almost besieged, we can’t do it a bit, but in Mariupol nothing comes in. We manage to reach people on the spot who take enormous risks because they have to climb to the top of the buildings to be able to make a phone call. The information we receive is dramatic on the living conditions, the permanent risks and the inability to treat people who need it. Do the Russians want humanitarian aid to enter the city, to give themselves the means to be able to secure the road and the passage of people and aid? That’s the question.

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