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Ukraine: Grave mental toll on women and children as one third of people surveyed by IRC are worried about further family separation and human trafficking

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The IRC is profoundly fearful for the lives and mental wellbeing of women and children in Ukraine, as well as those attempting to flee to safety in neighbouring countries.

It is clear that the escalating situation is having a disproportionate impact on women and children: two thirds of Ukraine’s children have now been displaced. Refugees surveyed by IRC - 93% of whom were women - said they faced a number of risks since fleeing their homes, including family separation, human trafficking and physical and sexual violence. 

Heather Macey, IRC Poland Team Lead, said,

“Ukraine’s displaced population is largely composed of women and children, and the mental and physical toll of conscription, which has caused millions of families to separate, has been immense on the mothers, wives and sisters who have fled the war. 

In a recent survey of refugees from Ukraine in Poland, the IRC found that 36% of people surveyed were worried that their families would be separated further and staff were told that the psychological impact on children has been devastating. Children arriving in Poland in recent weeks have seen terrible things - they have lived in bunkers as their towns and villages were bombed. Numerous individuals reported incidents of children crying or wetting themselves as a result of the trauma they have endured. 

“We know, from our experience in some of the world’s most dangerous conflict and crisis settings, that women and girls are especially vulnerable to exploitation and abuse in times of crisis and that their inclusion in society is precarious if they have experienced displacement. Of those surveyed by IRC in Poland, 28% reported being at risk of human trafficking while 19% had experienced some form of physical or sexual violence.

“What we are seeing in Ukraine is no different and it is plain to see that women and children are bearing the brunt of the conflict. The IRC is working with local partners and the government to put in place Safe Healing and Learning Spaces for children who have been displaced. These will provide a safe, caring and predictable environment for them to cope, learn, develop and be protected. It is vital that support like this is offered immediately so that they are not left to deal with this crisis alone. This is only a sticking plaster, however, and civilians, especially women and children, must be protected at all costs. The ultimate solution lies in Ukraine - we need an immediate ceasefire and an end to the violence.”

The IRC has been responding to humanitarian crises in Europe since 2015, where we launched an emergency response to the peak in migration in Greece and relaunched operations in Serbia. Our teams provided water, health and sanitation, and psychosocial support to refugees and migrants. Since then, the IRC has also provided support to refugees and migrants in Germany from 2016, Italy from 2017, and Bosnia-Herzegovina from 2020. Last year, the IRC also started to provide integration support to refugees and their local communities in the UK.

About the IRC

The International Rescue Committee responds to the world’s worst humanitarian crises, helping to restore health, safety, education, economic wellbeing, and power to people devastated by conflict and disaster. Founded in 1933 at the call of Albert Einstein, the IRC is at work in over 40 countries and over 20 U.S. cities helping people to survive, reclaim control of their future, and strengthen their communities. Learn more at www.rescue.org and follow the IRC on Twitter & Facebook.