Resilience, Peace and Security

5 things to know about the humanitarian crisis in Ukraine

Ukrainian blue and yellow flag.

The UNHCR estimates 4 million people will flee Ukraine over the coming months. Image: UNSPLASH/Max Kukurudziak

Kate Whiting
Senior Writer, Forum Agenda
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This article was first published on March 2 and updated on March 10.

  • More than 2 million refugees have fled Ukraine since the Russian invasion began on February 24.
  • More than half of those refugees have arrived in neighbouring Poland.
  • The UN Refugee Agency has warned this number may reach 4 million in the coming days.
  • Here’s a snapshot of the scale of the humanitarian crisis – and how you can help.

In freezing temperatures, groups of mainly women and children have been arriving at Ukraine’s borders with eatern Poland, Slovakia and Hungary and with northern and north-eastern Romania and Moldova.

Queues have formed – stretching back dozens of kilometres in some instances – as people wait to get processed, with the time it takes to cross to safety ranging from hours to several days.

"I took a train from Kyiv to Lviv to a point where the taxi put us. I walked the last 50 kilometres," one Ukrainian woman told Reuters.

At an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council on 28 February, Dame Barbara Woodward, the British Ambassador to the UN, warned that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is causing a “humanitarian catastrophe”.

“As a result of President Putin’s decision to launch a full-scale invasion of Ukraine, a country of 44 million people is now on the brink of humanitarian catastrophe. Missiles have rained down on Kharkiv, with cluster munitions hitting residential areas and injuring residents. Disruption to supply chains has caused food shortages in Kramatorsk …

“Violence in Kyiv has forced people to seek refuge underground, with many thousands, including the elderly and disabled, unable to evacuate.”

Here’s a snapshot of the scale of the humanitarian crisis.

1. More than 2 million Ukrainian refugees and rising

More than 2 million people, mostly women and children, have fled Ukraine to neighbouring countries since the Russian invasion began on February 24, according to the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR).

As of March 8, over half of those people - more than 1.4 million - have arrived in Poland, with Hungary, Moldova, Slovakia, Romania receiving more than 500,000 between them.

There were early reports of people waiting for up to 60 hours to enter Poland, while queues at the Romanian border are up to 20km long, UNHCR Spokesperson Shabia Mantoo told a briefing in Geneva.

A chart showing the number of refugees from Ukraine.
The countries that Ukrainian refugees are fleeing to. Image: Statista

2. How many Ukrainian refugees there could be

The UNHCR is planning for up to 4 million refugees in the coming days and weeks.

UNHCR High Commissioner Filippo Grandi told the UN Security Council: “I have worked in refugee crises for almost 40 years and I have rarely seen such an incredibly fast-rising exodus of people. I regret to say that unless there is an immediate halt to conflict, Ukrainians will continue to flee.”

3. EU countries have dropped entry requirements

EU interior ministers gave unanimous backing on March 3 to a plan to grant temporary residency to Ukrainians fleeing the Russian invasion, which should come into force within days.

French Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin described as "important and historic" the backing for a package that would offer Ukrainians rights similar to those of formal refugees for a year, and subject to possible renewal. EU members Poland, Romania, Slovakia and Hungary have land borders with Ukraine.

Slovakia has opened its borders to refugees without travel documents, while the Czech Republic has lifted its ban on Ukrainians crossing without COVID-19 certificates.

4. How much is needed

Red Cross agencies appealed on 1 March for $273 million to provide food, water and shelter to millions of people in Ukraine and to those who have fled abroad.

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies – the world's largest disaster relief network – issued the joint appeal as a huge Russian armoured column bore down on Kyiv, six days after Moscow's invasion began.

"We need the funds to address the humanitarian needs, which are already staggering – food, water, shelter, healthcare, psychological support – and they are growing by the hour," ICRC Regional Director for Europe and Central Asia Martin Schüepp told a news briefing.

5. How you can help

Donations to organizations such as the ICRC and the International Rescue Committee will pay for urgent supplies, including blankets and cooking stoves.

The UNHCR says that fundraising for displaced families by organizing events through work or at school is a way to take positive action and bring people together to help during the crisis.

It also warns about sharing misinformation online about the situation in Ukraine, suggesting using accredited sources including the BBC and the World Economic Forum. If you’re unsure of whether a news source is accredited, it suggests checking here.

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