The U.N. refugee agency UNHCR says it is beefing up its humanitarian aid operation for millions of Ukrainians forced to flee their homes in the face of intensified fighting and increased brutality by Russia’s military forces.
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine that began February 24 has triggered one of the fastest-growing displacement and humanitarian crises in the world. UNHCR says the carpet bombing of Ukrainian cities and towns, and the targeting of civilians and civilian infrastructure have caused more than 4.2 million Ukrainians to flee as refugees to neighboring countries. An additional 7.1 million people are displaced inside Ukraine.
The UNHCR says it is increasing aid both inside and outside Ukraine to keep pace with the burgeoning needs of the displaced. Agency spokesman Matthew Saltmarsh said reception and collective centers are being expanded to receive more internally displaced people.
While the distribution of life-saving aid is being increased, he noted delivering aid remains challenging in places of active fighting. Nevertheless, he said aid workers continue to try to reach besieged areas, such as Mariupol and Kherson.
“The latest such convoy was on the sixth of April, where UNHCR was among those carrying aid to Sievierodonetsk in Luhansk (region), eastern Ukraine,” said Saltmarsh. “For weeks, people there have endured relentless shelling and shortages of basics like water, gas, and electricity. Our team was able to deliver solar lamps, blankets, hygiene kits, baby formula and tarpaulin sheets.”
Saltmarsh said most Ukrainians fleeing the country head for Poland, which has welcomed more than 2.5 million refugees since the start of the war.
“While the pace of arrivals is slowing, overall flows continue given the ongoing hostilities,” he said. “UNHCR staff have observed that newly arrived refugees are coming from various parts of the country, including the east, with some reporting having spent weeks hunkering down at home or in shelters in dire conditions.”
Saltmarsh said the UNHCR’s initial response to refugee needs has been eclipsed by the new, more horrifying realities in Ukraine. He said the agency’s appeal on March 1 for $550.6 million is now seen as insufficient to deal with the crisis. He said a new, more comprehensive response plan will be revealed later this month.