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Ukraine crisis

Five ways the IRC helps people impacted by the war in Ukraine

One hundred days into the war in Ukraine, civilians continue to bear the brunt of its hardships. More than 6.4 million people now have fled the country, another 8 million have been displaced internally—the most significant upheaval in Europe since World War II.

International Rescue Committee (IRC) staff were on the ground in Poland before the conflict began, working with partners to monitor the fluid situation and identify where we could be most effective. We’ve since scaled up to match the scale of the crisis, providing aid directly and with partners. By partnering with local nonprofits with deep roots in their communities, we are helping them strengthen and build their capacity to meet the long-term needs of the people they serve. 

Three people stand and talk in a warehouse, surrounded by supplies.

The IRC is partnering with the Polish Red Cross to make sure that people trapped inside Ukraine can have access to things like first aid kits, stretchers, emergency blankets and bandages.

Photo: Andrew Oberstadt for the IRC

For example, the IRC is working with the Polish Red Cross to provide sleeping bags, blankets, folding beds and other supplies. With the IRC’s help, the organization has also purchased medical equipment, including first-aid kits, stretchers, emergency blankets and bandages, for teams operating at refugee reception centers and crossing points along the border. We are also working in Ukraine, including with Right to Protection, to provide emergency assistance to internally displaced people. 

Explore five other ways the IRC is helping people impacted by the war in Ukraine. 

Distributing cash 

People in crisis know best what their families need. Direct cash payments have proven to be one of the most effective ways to help them survive. 

“If you're a mother with three children, you know what you need to spend your money on,” says Heather Macey, who led the IRC’s initial response in Poland. “We don't need to be telling you to buy diapers. If you're an elderly couple, you have other needs. So by giving cash, it supports the local economy and it gives people the opportunity to define their needs for themselves.”

In Poland, the IRC is providing cash to refugees from Ukraine both directly and with partners. Thanks to the generous support of the United Kingdom Disasters Emergency Committee (DEC) the IRC has provided direct cash assistance to approximately 3,000 refugee households, getting vital aid into the hands of more than 8,000 people. In addition, with the IRC’s help, the Polish Center for International Aid (PCPM) is providing cash to around 2,000 people who have fled Ukraine. PCPM focuses on people with special needs, including the elderly, mothers with young children, people with disabilities, and women who cannot work because they are caring for someone with disabilities. 

The IRC is also supporting PCPM’s Cash for Work program, matching Ukrainian teachers to jobs in Poland and ensuring their salaries—thus helping displaced children continue to learn in their native language.

Supporting children 

According to the United Nations, two-thirds of children in Ukraine have been displaced from their homes. Many lived in bunkers as their towns and villages were bombed; those who have escaped to neighboring countries are also coping with emotional trauma.

In Poland, the IRC is working with local partners and the municipality of Warsaw to help these children. In conjunction with Fundacja NORMA, the IRC’s Safe Healing and Learning Spaces approach is being rolled out in eight shelters housing refugees. These spaces provide a caring and predictable environment where children can go during the day. Staff facilitate games intended to foster social and emotional learning, such as dealing with conflict or negative feelings. 

A young boy wearing a headband and coat sits against a wall, holding an orange cat.

Eight-year-old Maxim* and his family stayed in Ukraine for as long as they could so that his 4-year-old sister with special needs could continue her treatment. But when her hospital started getting overwhelmed with casualties from the conflict, her doctor told them to flee to Poland where there was a hospital that could help them. Now safe in Poland, they hope for the day they can return home and rebuild their lives.

Photo: Andrew Oberstadt

“Predictability is very important,” says Pablo Pérez Fernández, the IRC’s child protection manager in Poland. “You have children who may be in their house one day, then in a bunker, and the third day they are in another country with only one parent. The fourth day, that parent might be sick, and on the fifth day, they move to a shelter. So we provide a place that is predictable and safe, where they interact with other children, and where they get support by people who are trained in working with children in their situation.”

Providing psychological care

Mental health support is also critical for adults impacted by the war. 

“Refugees in Poland continue to arrive traumatized and in need of vital support, including shelter and trauma counseling,” says Jason Phillips, currently leading the IRC’s Poland response. 

With IRC support, the Polish Forum for Migration is providing in-person and remote support by trained psychologists, as well as information on available humanitarian and legal services. We are also working with Right to Protection in Ukraine to provide mental health and psychosocial support to people internally displaced. 

Protecting women and girls 

The majority of those fleeing Ukraine are women and children, who are always most at risk of exploitation and abuse. An IRC survey in March found that 28 percent of women fleeing Ukraine reported being at risk of human trafficking, while 19 percent had experienced some form of physical or sexual violence.

Any effective response to the Ukraine crisis must listen to women and girls, be responsive to their needs, and ensure that they are part of the recovery. 

Two women and four children stand outside together in winter coats.

“When we heard the plane, we were trying to hide the kids in the basement, but the basement was not big enough for everybody to get into. The adults were just laying down on the ground and praying," Oksana* said about her last days in Ukraine before she fled with her sister Marta* and their children.

Photo: Andrew Oberstadt

For the IRC’s part, we are training staff members from partner organizations based in Warsaw to assist in protection and safeguarding for women and children. We are also supporting existing services in Warsaw that address gender-based violence and prevention, as well as providing technical assistance for staff and responders. 

Distributing critical information

IRC-supported Right to Protection also provides legal aid, protection, housing, and employment assistance to displaced Ukrainians. We are also working with partners to provide information and evacuation assistance to people fleeing the country. In Poland, we are working with the Polish Forum for Migration to reach newly arrived refugees with information on their rights and how they can access assistance. 

Three people stand outside in winter coats, smiling and speaking.

Harlem Désir, the IRC's senior vice president in Europe, visits the Polish border with Ukraine to meet with refugee families who had fled the conflict.

Photo: Francesco Pistilli

In addition, the IRC has partnered with Migam.org, a start up founded in 2011 that provides a live sign language service for deaf people. Migram.org initially focused on Polish sign language but with the IRC’s help, it has hired eight Ukrainian interpreters and can now offer interpretation to refugees 24/7. When deaf people arrive at the Polish border from Ukraine, they will see posters and signage explaining how to launch the free service via a web browser, mobile application, or any device equipped with a camera and internet access. 

Finally, a grant from Google.org, along with a Google.org Fellowship team, will help the IRC support United for Ukraine, an information portal and civil society effort that helps displaced people find access to critical services. The initiative will be part of the IRC’s Signpost Project, a global humanitarian technology program operating in 15 countries.

What needs to happen 

The IRC is calling for an immediate ceasefire to avoid further suffering, and assurances for the protection of civilians. The international community must remain united and apply diplomatic pressure for a political settlement. At the same time, the world must invest in humanitarian relief services to Ukraine and neighboring countries, while not neglecting the myriad of other crises that need attention around the world. 

A person with a Red Cross jacket walks through a warehouse of supplies, their back to the camera.

A warehouse used by the Polish Red Cross.

Photo: Andrew Oberstadt

How you can help 

One of the best ways you can help right now is by rushing an emergency donation to help us assist people in crisis in Ukraine and around the world. 

The IRC is consistently awarded top marks by charity watchdog groups for our efficient use of donor contributions and the effectiveness of our work. Read more reasons to give to the IRC.

*Pseudonyms used for privacy.