ITF, V.Group Help 100 Relatives of Ukrainian Seafarers Escape Fighting

ukraine seafarers families
Courtesy ITF

Published Apr 11, 2022 3:54 PM by The Maritime Executive

A coalition of unions and shipmanagers have successfully helped over 100 seafarers and their family members to find refuge from ongoing hostilities in Ukraine. 

The joint humanitarian initiative was set up by the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF), the ITF Seafarers’ Trust, the Marine Transport Workers’ Trade Union of Ukraine (MTWTU) and leading ship manager V.Group. The initiative is focused on helping seafarers and their families, many of whom live in contested port regions in Ukraine's southeast. The operation is now in its third week.

“Many seafarers families are at the epicenter of the military actions taking place in key maritime cities in Ukraine," said Oleg Grygoriuk, Chairman of MTWTU. "Prior to the start of this project, we helped more than 60 people to cross the border using MTWTU resources. We gained valuable experience and we are grateful for the opportunity to continue this project, which definitely is the number one priority for seafarers’ families now."

Along Ukraine's southeastern corner, Russia has occupied the cities of Berdyansk and Kherson, and Russian forces have captured most of the port of Mariupol despite fierce resistance. To the west, Mykolaiv has sustained repeated attacks, but Ukrainian forces have so far managed to repel the Russian Army, defending Odesa in the process. Nationwide, at least 4.5 million Ukrainian civilians have been displaced by the fighting. 

"Today we heard that three families managed to make the move from Kherson to Odesa and will be on their way to safety on the next bus out this week," said Katie Higginbottom, head of the ITF Seafarers’ Trust. "We can barely imagine the levels of courage and endurance required to take these perilous journeys. We continue to call for industry partners to join our initiative so that we can keep the project running for as long as it is needed and help as many families as possible."

There is a separate humanitarian crisis brewing aboard foreign-flag ships at Ukraine's ports. According to the International Labor Organization (ILO), about 1,000 seafarers are trapped aboard merchant vessels in Ukrainian waters, unable to leave because of the ongoing Russian naval blockade. At least seven ships have been damaged or destroyed by Russian attacks since the conflict began.

"As well as the dangers arising from bombardment, many of the ships concerned now lack food, fuel, fresh water and other vital supplies," ILO said in a statement. "The situation of the seafarers from many countries is becoming increasingly untenable as a result, presenting grave risks."

Last week, Russian forces captured part of Mariupol's seaport and claimed to have removed 47 seafarers from several berthed merchant ships in the port complex. Russian state media described the action as a "liberation" of the crew from Ukrainian forces, though the blockade of Mariupol is Russian-operated and Russian forces have attacked at least two merchant ships in the vicinity.