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Ukrainian child in a bomb shelter

Children being treated at a hospital in Kyiv, Ukraine have their beds placed in the basement, which is being used as a bomb shelter, on February 28, 2022. (Photo: Aris Messinis/AFP via Getty Images)

As Ukraine's Humanitarian Crisis Spirals, Groups Plead for Billions in Aid

"This is the darkest hour for the people of Ukraine," said one U.N. official.

Julia Conley

As Russian forces attacked the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv on Tuesday, the United Nations refugee agency and other humanitarian groups called for funding from across the globe to help aid millions of displaced and suffering Ukrainians amid warnings that the situation in the country and across Eastern Europe is "deteriorating rapidly."

"We already see long-term disruptions in regular water and electricity supplies. People calling our hotline in Ukraine are desperately in need of food and shelter."

The U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) issued an emergency appeal for $1.7 billion, estimating that 12 million Ukrainians who remain in the country will need assistance while more than four million people projected to flee to neighboring countries including Poland, Hungary, and Slovakia are expected to need relief, healthcare, food, and other essentials in the coming months.

"Families with small children are hunkered down in basements and subway stations or running for their lives to the terrifying sound of explosions and wailing sirens," said Martin Griffiths, U.N. undersecretary for humanitarian affairs. "Casualty numbers are rising fast. This is the darkest hour for the people of Ukraine. We need to ramp up our response now to protect the lives and dignity of ordinary Ukrainians."

"We must respond with compassion and solidarity," he added.

The UNHCR's "flash appeal" aims to help six million people in Ukraine over the next three months as the country copes with the effects of the war Russian President Vladimir Putin started last week, sparking international condemnation.

Ukrainians who have remained in the country are expected to need cash assistance, food, support for healthcare and education services, water and sanitation, and shelter assistance as damaged homes are rebuilt.

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), along with its partner organization, the International Federation of the Red Crescent (IFRC), also called on the global community to help fund their operations in Ukraine and countries that have accepted refugees.

The groups requested $272 million, noting that internally displaced Ukrainians are already in need of emergency water delivery and supplies for hospitals to treat wounded people.

"The escalating conflict in Ukraine is taking a devastating toll," said ICRC Director General Robert Mardini. "Casualty figures keep rising while health facilities struggle to cope. We already see long-term disruptions in regular water and electricity supplies. People calling our hotline in Ukraine are desperately in need of food and shelter. To respond to this massive emergency, our teams must be able to operate safely to access those in need."

Unaccompanied minor children, single women with children, people with disabilities, and elderly people are in particular need of support, said the ICRC, which has been also been focusing its efforts on reuniting separated families and "carrying out its work to ensure that dead bodies are treated with dignity and that family members of the deceased can grieve and find closure."

The UNHCR reported that over six days, about 660,000 Ukrainians have now fled the country, seeking asylum in surrounding countries.

"The situation looks set to become Europe’s largest refugee crisis this century," the agency said.

The number of refugees traveling across the continent is expected to grow in the coming days unless talks between Russia and Ukraine, expected to continue Wednesday, result in a peace agreement. Initial talks concluded in Belarus on Monday without progress.

"We call for an immediate end to hostilities," said international humanitarian group Oxfam. "The protection of civilians must be assured: respect for international law and the principles of the charter of the United Nations are vital to preserve peace."

"In any conflict it is always the most vulnerable people who are the worst affected," the group added. "As conflict and its consequences ravage economies, it is people living in poverty, on both sides, who will lose their jobs and their access to services, and who will struggle most to cope with daily life."

The U.N. confirmed reports on Tuesday that people of color fleeing Ukraine have faced racism from Polish border officials and have had difficulty crossing into the country.

"We advocate for access to safety for all, regardless of their legal status, nationality and race as well as access to asylum for those who want to seek asylum," said Christine Pirovolakis, external relations officer at the UNHCR.

Oxfam called on the international community to "stand together in our common humanity, united in our pursuit of peace and human rights for all people."

"This must apply equally to all people fleeing conflict, whether from Ukraine, or to those in Yemen and Afghanistan and beyond," the group added.


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