Civilian infrastructure in Kharkiv battered by surge in attacks

  • In the past several weeks, Kharkiv—Ukraine’s second-biggest city—has faced multiple attacks, including missile strikes and drone bombings, leading to a sharp increase in casualties.
  • Attacks have caused extensive damage to civilian infrastructure, including power outages, interruptions in water and heating supply and the shutdown of some public transport.
  • “The city has endured heavy bombardment, often targeting essential civilian infrastructure such as schools, kindergartens, hospitals and energy facilities,” says Dr. Oleksandr Volkov, an IRC medical doctor based in Kharkiv.
Read our May 2 release

Ukraine crisis briefing

Millions of people have been uprooted from their homes in Ukraine and are in need of humanitarian assistance, in what has become the largest and fastest displacement crisis in Europe since World War II. Almost 6 million people have fled to Europe as refugees, while millions more are displaced within Ukraine and in need of urgent humanitarian assistance. Many are stranded or are unable to leave Ukraine due to increasing violence, destruction of bridges and roads, and a lack of resources or information on where to find safety and accommodation.

The crisis in Ukraine has pushed the country into the IRC’s Emergency Watchlist for the first time since 2017.

What caused the current crisis in Ukraine?

The conflict in Ukraine escalated into a war on 24 February 2022. Bombs and shelling continue, damaging homes, hospitals, schools and other civilian infrastructure.

Some 3.7 million people are displaced inside Ukraine, while nearly 6 million have fled to neighboring countries to seek safety.

Ukraine, which became an independent country in 1991 after the collapse of the Soviet Union, has been working to forge closer ties with the European Union and NATO, which escalated the tensions with Russia. In 2014, Russia illegally annexed the Crimean Peninsula and began backing pro-Russian separatists in parts of eastern Ukraine. Eight years of fighting have resulted in the deaths of over 3,000 people, forced more than 850,000 people from their homes, and left almost 3 million in need of aid. Eight years later, the conflict escalated into a war.

What are the main humanitarian challenges in Ukraine?

Russia’s war on Ukraine has resulted in humanitarian suffering on a scale beyond what Europe has seen this century. The world is bearing witness to the deaths of innocent civilians, the destruction of vital infrastructure, and massive displacement within Ukraine and beyond.

Almost 18 million people in Ukraine are in need of humanitarian support.

As the attacks continue, people who remain in Ukraine are enduring the dangers of life under siege, as they try to cope without adequate heat and electricity. Ukraine’s cold winter months exacerbate humanitarian needs in the country as families tried to keep warm amid destroyed buildings and heating infrastructure while temperatures regularly dropped below freezing. Meanwhile, constant shelling hinders access to basic needs and medical assistance. 

“As we are visiting remote areas in the region which have returned under the control of the Government of Ukraine, we witness harrowing images of destruction and talk to people who have lived for over a year without access to heating or electricity, sheltering in their basements when the crossfire came close to home,” explains Bob Kitchen, who traveled to Ukraine in April 2023. “A family we saw in one of the villages yesterday was once faced with a heartbreaking choice –  taking their bedridden mother underground where she may have died from cold, or hoping she would survive rounds of shelling in her own bed.”

Millions of people in Ukraine have been uprooted from their homes, among them nearly 6 million who have fled to Europe. The majority of those on the move are women and children, who are always most at risk of exploitation and abuse during crises.

Over 1,000 attacks on medical facilities and 2,500 attacks on schools and other infrastructure have been recorded in blatant violations of international humanitarian law. Millions of people are struggling with war-compounded trauma without adequate mental-health support available.

The IRC's experience shows that when people are trapped and health and sanitation facilities are targeted, diseases like tuberculosis spread and preventable deaths skyrocket

Learn how the IRC’s mobile health teams are providing care in frontline regions that have recently returned under the control of the Government of Ukraine

Beyond Ukraine

The war will also have far-reaching humanitarian implications across Europe and the globe. It also impacts supplies of Ukrainian-grown wheat and other food staples for countries like Yemen, Libya and Lebanon that are already facing acute levels of food insecurity.

Read IRC president and CEO David Miliband's statement on the Black Sea Grain Deal, which impacts some of the world’s most vulnerable countries.

What is the situation for refugees from Ukraine?

Russia's invasion of Ukraine has resulted in one of the world’s largest refugee crises and the war continues to force people—most of them women, girls and the elderly—to Poland, Moldova and other European states. Women and girls, especially those traveling alone, could be at risk of exploitation and abuse, including sexual violence, gender-based violence and trafficking.

Nearly 6 million refugees have had to leave Ukraine, with almost 1 million Ukrainian refugees seeking safety in Poland.

People continue to stay in Poland, Romania, Hungary, Slovakia and Moldova as it is unsafe to return to Ukraine. While basic humanitarian needs, like food and protection, are largely being met, additional integration support, such as job opportunities, long-term accommodation and language classes, are needed to help refugees rebuild their livelihoods.

How is the IRC helping in Ukraine and neighboring countries?

In Ukraine, we are focusing our assistance in the areas most heavily affected by the war. Together with our local partners, we are:

  • Providing timely cash support to vulnerable families to enable them to cover their most basic needs, 
  • Supplying hygiene kits, dignity kits for women and adolescent girls, and psychosocial support kits for children,
  • Providing essential protection services, including running Safe Healing and Learning Spaces for children, gender-based violence services and women’s centers, and legal assistance for people whose homes have been damaged by air strikes,
  • Supporting overwhelmed health facilities with much needed supplies and a mobile health team.
  • Equipping families in gas stoves, warm blankets and power banks ahead of the cold winter season.

A grant by and a Fellowship team is helping the IRC support United for Ukraine, an information portal and civil society effort that helps displaced people find access to critical services. The initiative is part of the IRC’s Signpost Project, a global humanitarian technology program operating in 15 countries that helps refugees find resources to meet their urgent needs.

By September 2023, the IRC has reached over 860,000 people in Ukraine directly and through our online services.

The IRC is also on the ground in Poland, working with local organizations to meet the needs of displaced families, many of whom are staying in shelters across the country. This includes:

  • Running two livelihood centers in Poznań and Katowice together with daycare programs for children to support job-seeking parents,
  • Providing refugees with information on their rights and available assistance, as well as in-person and remote mental health support from trained psychologists,
  • Providing cultural assistants to help children integrate into classrooms,
  • Delivering multipurpose cash assistance to ensure refugees can buy food, medicine, clothing and other essentials,
  • Providing sign language translation for Deaf people forced to flee Ukraine,
  • Continuing to support women affected by the war in Ukraine to find shelter in carefully curated safe havens and a dedicated women’s center.

In Moldova, we are working with local partners to assist Ukrainian refugees by supporting their education, health, safety, access to legal information and economic well-being. This includes:

  • Helping children integrate into local schools by ensuring access to Healing Classrooms, tutoring services and community-led and after-school activities,
  • Providing referrals for medical services, supply connections, vouchers for services, support and knowledge to displaced people in need of medical or health assistance,
  • Addressing immediate protection concerns and ensuring people are safe accessing services in Moldova – this includes running safe spaces for displaced women, children and families,
  • Providing mental health and psychosocial support.

The IRC is responding along the entire arc of the crisis, assisting Ukrainian refugees in Romania, Hungary, Slovakia, Czechia and Bulgaria, as well as in Germany, Italy, Greece, the US and the UK. This includes distributing children’s books, translated in Ukrainian, to displaced children and their families across Europe.

Humanitarian needs resulting from the war in Ukraine demand unwavering global solidarity. As the initial response loses momentum, the international community needs to scale up its efforts to invest in longer term solutions to ensure that empower refugees to make informed decisions about their future and protect those who have remained in Ukraine.

It’s been so horrible, reading the news and wondering where family members are. All my relatives are in eastern Ukraine and I am afraid of what could happen to them.
A close up of Anastasiia standing in a field wearing winter clothes
Newly engaged and working amid the conflict and crisis at home, Ukrainian refugee Anastasiia is rebuilding her life in Poland.
Meet Anastasiia