Ukraine Humanitarian Crisis

After months of posturing while simultaneously denying any plans to attack, Russian President Vladimir Putin’s assaults on multiple cities in Ukraine began overnight on Feb. 24 and have continued day and night since then.

The Center for Disaster Philanthropy’s (CDP) response to this crisis is focused on humanitarian needs that arise, particularly among internally-displaced peoples (IDPs) and refugees. We are not looking at the conflict itself except how it affects population movement and humanitarian needs. To that end, this profile is not providing detailed updates about the status of the war as we believe that is better done by news media.

Putin stated that Russian forces were targeting Ukrainian military infrastructure, not people or communities. However, images and stories from Ukraine paint a different picture, including numerous civilian casualties and injuries.

This latest attack is part of a multi-year crisis stemming back to 2014 and beyond.

CNBC reported: “Heightened fears of a military conflict between Russia and Ukraine have been present for some time, and eastern Ukraine has been the location of a proxy war between the two countries. Soon after Russia’s annexation of Crimea from Ukraine in 2014, pro-Russian separatists proclaimed two republics in the eastern part of the country: the Donetsk People’s Republic and the Luhansk People’s Republic — much to the Ukrainian government’s consternation. Since then, there have been ongoing skirmishes and fighting in the region, which is known as the Donbas, between Ukraine’s troops and separatists.”

According to World Population Review, Ukraine’s current population is 43.3 million people. It states, “Since the 1990s, Ukraine’s population has been declining due to high emigration rates, low birth rates, and high death rates … Many people leave the country because Ukraine is the second-poorest in Europe, is in conflict with Russia to its east, and is beset by corruption. The population is currently declining at a rate of 0.59%, a rate has increased every year since 2015. The United Nations estimates that Ukraine could lose nearly one-fifth of its population by 2050.”

From Feb. 24 to March 8, 2022, 2,155,271 refugees had left the country according to UNHCR. Almost 100,000 more from the Donetsk and Luhansk regions moved to the Russian Federation between Feb. 18 to Feb. 23. This is in addition to the hundreds of thousands who have been displaced within the country. The rapid influx of displaced people in western Ukraine and neighboring countries is overwhelming response capacities in those areas. Lviv, a city in western Ukraine, is currently hosting approximately 200,000 IDPs, more than a quarter of its population.

As of March 8, the vast majority of refugees (nearly 1.3 million) have gone to Poland. Other refugees went to several countries, including: Slovakia (153,303), Hungary (203,222), Romania (85,444), Moldova (82,762) and Russia (99,300). The remainder has gone elsewhere in Europe. Many refugees will continue their journeys through their initial receiving country as other European countries have offered to host refugees. On March 8, UN OCHA said, “after a third round of talks between the Russian Federation and Ukraine, both sides agreed on “safe passage” for the evacuation of civilians and uninterrupted delivery of humanitarian aid in the north-eastern city of Sumy.”

On March 3, Filippo Grandi, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees said, “In just seven days, one million people have fled Ukraine, uprooted by this senseless war. I have worked in refugee emergencies for almost 40 years, and rarely have I seen an exodus as rapid as this one. Hour by hour, minute by minute, more people are fleeing the terrifying reality of violence. Countless have been displaced inside the country. And unless there is an immediate end to the conflict, millions more are likely to be forced to flee Ukraine.”

The exodus of people from Ukraine is Europe’s fastest migration since the 1990s. It has been predicted that as many as five million people will leave as the war escalates. This would also make it one of the largest refugee crises in the world.

According to Statista: “In 2020, the UNHCR counted 6.8 million internationally displaced refugees and asylum-seekers from Syria, meaning people who had not yet gained full legal status in another country. The second-largest crisis identified by the U.N. was that of displaced Palestinians followed by those who left their home country due to the crisis in Venezuela – both counting around 5 million people in dire situations. Refugees and asylum-seekers from Sudan and South Sudan numbered 3 million while those from Afghanistan abroad were 2.8 million strong in 2020, the latest year for which data was available.”

There were nearly 80,000 foreign students in Ukraine at the beginning of the conflict. Many are Indian or African (mostly from Morocco, Egypt and Nigeria) and both groups are reporting stories of racism and discrimination at the border in trying to leave the country. They have been forcibly removed from trains, denied access to buses and forced to walk miles in the cold.

The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UN OCHA) issued a summary of humanitarian needs on Feb. 17, which indicated that while 2.9 people were in need, the humanitarian community’s call for support was focused on the 1.8 million people most directly affected by conflict. In eastern Ukraine, seven years of conflict have left shelter, health, protection and water, sanitation and hygiene and other basic needs in an acute emergency phase.

UN OCHA adds: “The effects of COVID-19 continue to create additional pressure on the struggling civilian population and ageing infrastructure – on top of the ongoing hostilities and protracted humanitarian crisis. As a result of COVID-19 restrictions, conflict-weary people have been dealing with severe obstacles to freedom of movement for almost two years. They have been unable to travel more freely across the 427-kilometre-long [265 miles] “contact line” that splits eastern Ukraine into Government- and non-Government-controlled areas (GCA and NGCA), as only two of the five official entry-exit crossing points (EECPs) have been partially operational since March 2020. The majority of current crossing restrictions are applied by the NGCA side. As a result of the partial closure of the “contact line”, in 2021, there has been a 95 per cent reduction in the number of crossings observed compared with the year before the pandemic: from a monthly average of 1.15 million crossings recorded in 2019 (pre-COVID-19) to 59,000 in 2021. Restrictions on movement have left hundreds of thousands of people, particularly the elderly living in NGCA, with limited access to social benefits and entitlements, essential services, as well as have torn them apart from their families and friends. As a consequence of their increased isolation and the abrupt loss of access to services and livelihoods, the severity of needs of those already vulnerable people has increased.”

UN OCHA has indicated that the most vulnerable populations in Donetska and Luhansja oblasts are older people. They comprise 30% of the people in need, followed by people with disabilities, women and children.

CARE recently produced a rapid gender analysis (RGA) brief on the Ukraine crisis that highlights significant gender issues – both pre-existing issues and ones that have emerged as a result of the conflict – so that humanitarian responses can better meet people’s different needs as the crisis evolves. CARE’s RGA brief also emphasizes that humanitarian programming must consider the unique needs of Ukraine’s minority populations. Ukraine has more than 130 ethnic groups, many of whom speak other languages. Groups with heightened vulnerabilities include the Roma community, the elderly, people with disabilities, women in rural communities in displacement and conflict zones, and LGBTQ+ communities.

A recent survey of older people in eastern Ukraine conducted by HelpAge International revealed 99% of older people do not want to be evacuated from their homes, 91% need help to get food because they have mobility issues and 75% need hygiene items. According to HelpAge International, “older people make up a third of all people in need of assistance in Ukraine, making this conflict the ‘oldest’ humanitarian crisis in the world.”

As of 2021, more than 2.7 million people in Ukraine were registered with disabilities, including nearly 164,000 children. Refugees fleeing Ukraine that identify as LGBTQ will face discrimination and need safe housing, medical care and transportation. People’s identities are complex and intersect in ways that can exacerbate inequitable outcomes.

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