As the conflict in Ukraine continues to escalate, more than 6 million people have fled to neighboring countries, including Poland, resulting in the fastest displacement crisis seen in Europe since World War II. Most of the refugees are women and children, who are particularly vulnerable in times of crisis.
When the conflict in Ukraine began on February 24, 2022, Polish nonprofits, businesses and government institutions quickly mobilized to support refugees crossing into Poland.
As the violence in eastern Ukraine escalates, refugees continue to arrive in Poland traumatized and in need of vital assistance after making dangerous journeys across the country.
The escalating conflict in Ukraine is causing grave harm to millions of families who are trapped by the violence or seeking safety in neighboring states. Many have sheltered in bunkers and basements as bombs and shelling rocked their neighborhoods. Ukrainian refugees arriving in Poland need urgent assistance, including trauma counseling and a safe place to stay.
Men of military age are not allowed to leave Ukraine, which means that many women and children forced to flee the country are traveling alone. Women may find themselves living on the margins in a new country without local contacts, language skills, or job opportunities that will enable them to provide for their children. This makes them particularly vulnerable to exploitation and abuse. When the IRC surveyed refugees from Ukraine in Poland in March 2022, 28% reported being at risk of human trafficking, while 19% experienced some form of physical or sexual violence.
The humanitarian needs will outlast the Ukraine conflict. Millions of Ukrainians have fled to countries in the heart of Europe, including Poland, where existing systems and structures are already equipped to meet their basic needs—it is up to organizations like the IRC to identify gaps and bolster this response so that local organizations can scale up their work for as long as they are needed.
The IRC is on the ground in Poland, delivering cash support to refugee families in Warsaw, to ensure they can buy food, medicine, clothing and other essentials. We are also working with several local organizations to meet the needs of families displaced from Ukraine, many of whom are staying in shelters across the country:
- With the Polish Red Cross, we are providing bedding, toiletries, mental health support and other emergency assistance to people arriving at border crossings or continuing their journeys into Poland from relocation points.
- We are working with the Polish Forum for Migration to provide newly arrived refugees with information on their rights and available assistance, as well as provide in-person and remote mental health support from trained psychologists.
- We are supporting Migam.org, a live video online sign language service for deaf people who need interpretation, to hire eight more interpreters so that Ukrainian sign language interpretation is available 24/7.
- The IRC and the Polish Center for International Aid (PCPM) are delivering cash support to people with disabilities, the elderly and other vulnerable groups, to ensure they can buy food, medicine, clothing and other essentials. We are are also connecting Ukrainian teachers, social workers and others with jobs in Poland and delivering cash support to ensure their salaries. This approach means, for example, that teachers can work flexibly and teach in schools where Ukrainian language skills are most needed.
- We are working with partners to set up Safe Healing and Learning Spaces across nine shelters in Warsaw, to provide families, and children in particular, the space they need to recover from the trauma they have endured.
- We are also working to help children who arrived as refugees integrate into Polish classrooms, providing cultural assistants and other support.
- We will also bolster existing support services in Warsaw that address gender-based violence and prevention, including by providing technical assistance for staff and responders.
Our work in Ukraine
The IRC is also responding inside Ukraine with our Ukrainian partners, supporting evacuation efforts for women and children, providing psychological care and delivering groceries, blankets, warm clothes, stoves, cash and other essentials to displaced families.
Our work across Europe
Founded in 1933 to assist people suffering under the Nazi regime, the IRC has a long history of providing humanitarian assistance in Europe. That commitment continues in the 21st century: In 2015, we launched an emergency response to the peak in migration in Greece and relaunched operations in Serbia. Since then, the IRC has also been providing support to refugees and migrants in Germany, Italy and Bosnia-Herzegovina. In 2021, we also started providing integration support to refugees and the local communities where they have resettled in the UK.
European states like Poland have shown an important commitment to welcoming people in need of protection, and the IRC hopes this will translate into sustained support for refugees everywhere.
At the same time, civilians still in Ukraine must be protected and Ukrainian refugees given the chance to return home, reunite with family members and live in safety. Along with an increase in humanitarian aid, what’s needed is no less than an immediate ceasefire and an end to the violence.
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