U.N. aid agencies are increasing humanitarian operations to help Ukrainians whose lives have been upended since Russia invaded the country.
The Russian offensive has thrown the country into turmoil. Aid agencies are scrambling to assess the dangers and priority needs and to help millions of people in an environment of extreme insecurity.
Preliminary figures of casualties are daunting. As of February 24, the U.N. human rights office says it has received reports of at least 127 civilian casualties, including 25 killed and 102 injured. Most of those casualties were reported in government-controlled territory in eastern Ukraine’s separatist regions of Donetsk and Luhansk.
Shabia Mantoo is a spokeswoman for UNHCR, the U.N. refugee agency. She says there has been substantial displacement and movement within the country and across borders since the offensive began.
“There are more than 100,000 people who we estimate have left their homes and maybe are displaced inside the country. And we are also aware of several thousand who have crossed international borders in the region. And we have seen those really just happening since the onset of the situation.”
The UNHCR warns up to four million people may flee to other countries if the situation escalates.
The World Health Organization representative in Ukraine, Jarno Habicht, was traveling when the Russian invasion started. He is stuck in Spain because the airspace in Ukraine is closed to civilian traffic.
He has lived in the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv, for three years and says he is personally concerned for the safety, health, and well-being of people across the country.
He says just one week ago, WHO staff was scaling up its COVID-19 vaccination campaign in Ukraine. He says inroads were being made in halting a recent polio outbreak and reforms to the country’s health system was gathering pace.
“Now, our priorities have shifted to trauma care, ensure access to services, continuity of care, mental health, and psycho-social support, but also moving forward all the reforms. So, humanitarian response is our top critical area now where we need to ensure also that our health and humanitarian response is protected.”
In response to the crisis, the WHO has released $3.5 million from its emergency contingency fund to purchase and deliver urgent medical supplies.
In addition, U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has allocated $20 million from the Central Emergency Response Fund.
Earlier this year, the U.N. appealed for $190 million to assist 1.8 million vulnerable people in government and non-government areas in eastern Ukraine.