Amidst intensified fighting in eastern Ukraine as we approach the one-year mark this week (24 February), the IRC is urging EU states to sustain their commitment to refugee support and ensure they are fully prepared to welcome new arrivals.

To date the EU has welcomed refugees fleeing the conflict with tremendous life-saving support. As the conflict drags on it is imperative that EU countries reinforce their commitment to supporting families displaced by war. If they fail to sustain this momentum over the long-term and the bold commitments made by some European states begin to slip, there could be dire humanitarian consequences for many of the eight million refugees from Ukraine across Europe.

We’re already concerned by developments in a number of countries that restrict access to assistance, for instance the recent decision by Poland requiring some refugees from Ukraine to supplement up to 75% of their accommodation costs, and plans by the Czech Republic to reduce the period of free residence to 150 days. 

At this point, 12 months since the start of the full-scale war in Ukraine, many refugees are exhausting their savings. We’re particularly worried about the impact this, in addition to a lack of tailored support, could have on people with specific vulnerabilities such as single mothers, the elderly and people with disabilities. These groups are often no longer able to rely on assistance from friends and family, and may face particular difficulties finding work and longer-term housing.

Those who do not have sufficient support may be forced to resort to negative coping mechanisms or even to return to Ukraine where they would face grave security and protection risks.

The IRC is calling on EU states to maintain and continue to ramp up their support for those forced to flee Ukraine - both providing for their immediate needs, and a longer-term response with a focus on inclusion and targeted support for the most vulnerable. This will be vital if refugees are to make voluntary, informed decisions about their future.

With Ukraine’s recovery and reconstruction high on the EU’s agenda, we urge leaders to ensure that the needs and perspectives of refugees and displaced people are placed at the heart of these processes, including supporting their return and eventual reintegration in Ukraine.

Michael Despines, IRC Regional Director for the Ukraine Crisis, says:

“More than 80% of people forced from Ukraine hope to return one day. However, it’s clear that the country is fraught with danger, and serious protection risks remain. Upwards of 140,000 homes in Ukraine have been damaged or destroyed, alongside thousands of schools, hospitals and vast parts of the country’s energy infrastructure. The landscape is riddled with landmines making the ground itself unsafe. Even if the war ended tomorrow, it would take years to recover and rebuild. 

Nobody should be pushed to return to Ukraine until it is safe. Yet, if European states fail to provide people with sufficient socioeconomic support over the coming months and years, people may be left with no choice but to go back to the country despite the immense dangers.  

With no end to the war in sight, EU leaders must seize this tragic milestone to double-down on their efforts to meet people’s urgent needs and support with their inclusion and integration over the longer-term.”

Harlem Desir, IRC Senior Vice President, Europe, says:

“With shifting frontlines and the possibility that this war will become protracted, it’s critical that EU states remain ready to extend their remarkable support to people fleeing Ukraine for as long as necessary, and ensure they can welcome people quickly and effectively in case of a sudden uptick in new arrivals.

The vast majority of those who fled Ukraine over the past year are women with children who have been separated from their immediate family members, including fathers and husbands. It’s vital that they can access housing and employment, and basic services such as healthcare and education, so they are not forced to resort to desperate measures like cutting back on food or medicines.

The IRC’s experience shows that failing to provide adequate integration support risks setting people on a path towards social exclusion. On the contrary, when refugees are supported and empowered to work, access their rights and build social networks from the moment of their arrival it boosts integration and social cohesion, while bolstering the local economy.”

Hennadii Anatoliyowych Onatskyi, 50-year-old man from Mariupol, currently in Warsaw:

“In the beginning, my family had no income, so we had only the clothes and food that people gave us. That made me feel awful because I am a healthy, grown man and wanted to work and support my family, but it was not possible… I am thankful for the financial help we have received from NGOs to buy winter clothes and shoes for the family because my salary is not high, even when I work. If my family did not get this help, it would be very difficult for us to live in Poland.”