More than 8 million people have fled across borders to seek safety since the conflict in Ukraine escalated into a war on February 24, 2022. The conflict shows no sign of abating, with innocent civilians paying the highest price for the war. 

Bombs and shelling have continued, deliberately targeting water, electricity and gas supply systems and impacting other civilian infrastructure across Ukraine, including homes, hospitals and schools, in what has become the worst humanitarian crisis Europe has seen in decades. According to official reports, these waves of missile strikes have damaged up to 50% of Ukraine’s power grid and leftmillions of people without electricity, water, and heating. Blackouts have become a daily reality.

Ending violence against civilians is the most significant step towards allowing Ukrainians to rebuild their lives.World leaders must also ensure that international humanitarian law is upheld and that humanitarian actors are protected and maintain access to help those in need.

The IRC has been the ground in Poland and Ukraine since February 2022, working directly with our partners to reach those most in need. This includes providing critical information, cash support, medical supplies and other essential needs. In November,  we urgently scaled up our winter response within Ukraine to provide people with blankets, quilts, sleeping bags, stoves, power banks, heaters and fuel. 

In areas close to the frontlines, we have been providing plywood and other materials to seal windows damaged by shelling, and equipping families that have no electricity or no means to pay for gas with solid fuel stoves.

What is happening in Ukraine?

Over 8,000 civilians have been reported killed in the Russian attacks. Approximately 5.4 million people have reportedly been displaced within the country, with an additional 8 million forced to flee into neighbouring Moldova, Poland and other European states. Most of those who have left the country are women and children.

Public infrastructure has also been destroyed, meaning millions of people are without adequate water, heat and electricity, or are unable to reach stores to buy basic necessities because roads and bridges are unpassable. In the recent winter months, families have sought shelter in damaged buildings not suited to deal with sudden drops of temperature or heavy snowfall. 

In Eastern Ukraine, the health system is crumbling as hospitals begin to run out of medicine and electricity is cut. Health facilities, including a maternity and children's hospital, have also been damaged during the war—another grave breach of international humanitarian law.

IRC staff and hospital staff are moving many IRC boxes full of helpful supplies.
Staff of a medical facility in Zaporizhia, Ukraine work to distribute medical supplies provided by the IRC.
Photo: IRC

Ukraine was shaken by conflict even before the recent escalation: since 2014 fighting has been raging in the Crimea and Eastern Ukraine over the past eight years, killing over 3,000 people, displacing more than 850,000 from their homes, and leaving almost 3 million in need of humanitarian aid.

What has war meant for Ukraine?

The war in Ukraine has triggered the fastest forced mass flight of the century in Europe and fueled unprecedented humanitarian needs in the country. The world has borne witness to the deaths of innocent civilians, the destruction of homes and infrastructure, and massive displacement of families within Ukraine and beyond.

The 5.4 million internally displaced people are increasingly vulnerable as many are living in plummeting temperatures without insulation or access to heating.

Economy in decline

The war has accelerated the contraction of Ukraine’s economy, causing drastic increases in inflation and unemployment. The consequences of the conflict will be long-lasting: if the war deepens and protracts further, up to 90% of the population of Ukraine could be facing poverty and the vulnerabilities that come with it. 

Refugees at risk

As attacks continue to target civilians, many more Ukrainians are being displaced from their homes, both within their country and across borders. The conflict has displaced over 8 million refugees so far. They join a record 31.7 million refugees and asylum seekers across the world.

The impacts on women and girls

The majority of the over 8 million refugees who have fled Ukraine are women and children. Along with women displaced within Ukraine, they are at grave risk of violence, exploitation and abuse.

A woman, Valentina, in the forefront, with three people sitting at desks behind her
Valentina, 72, her daughter, granddaughter, two great-grandchildren, and her 91-year-old mother left their homes in Lugansk region, Donbas, with nothing but the clothes they were wearing. They have been receiving support from the IRC at the women’s centre in Dnipro.
Photo: Diana Zeyneb Alhindawi for the IRC

Women and girls impacted by the crisis are also increasingly unable to reach the emergency medical services, basic health care, and social services they need. If the crisis continues to shut down essential services, women will give birth without access to critical maternal health care. For them, childbirth could be a life-threatening experience.

The IRC is calling for international donors and world leaders to prioritise support and protection services for women and girls. This means listening to Ukrainian women and girls themselves and including women’s rights organisations in all affected countries in coordinating and implementing the humanitarian response.

What are the impacts on the rest of the world?

Given the importance of Ukraine wheat and grain exports, the conflict has had catastrophic impacts on many regions already facing conflict and crises.

The United Nations recently announced that “famine is at the door” in Somalia as the disruption in food supply and a severe drought ravage East Africa. Across the region, 21.7 million people currently don’t have access to sufficient food, and 1.5 million children are at a risk of life-threatening malnutrition.

Somalia has been facing its worst drought in 40 years and is about to enter its sixth failed rainy season. This, combined with the impact of decades of conflict, has made the country dangerously reliant on imported grains—specifically from Ukraine and Russia. By mid-2023, over 8 million people—nearly half of the population—will be living through crisis levels of food insecurity as the country faces an impending famine.

In the Middle East, the war in Ukraine has sent prices of wheat and fuel spiralling. Syrian refugees are among the hardest hit, as many do not have the incomes to cover the dramatically increased cost of living. Recently, the country has also been devastated by a powerful 7.8 earthquake.

Learn more about how the war in Ukraine impacts the rest of the world.

What can Western leaders and the humanitarian community do?

People impacted by the conflict in Ukraine must be protected.

The IRC strongly backs the United Nation Secretary General’s call to protect civilians. The UN Charter must be respected and international humanitarian law must be followed including the protection of schools and hospitals. People must be allowed to move freely, and aid agencies must be granted access to those in need of assistance.

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At the same time, the world must ensure relief services inside and outside Ukraine continue to have the funds they need to save lives and alleviate suffering. European countries must welcome their neighbours fleeing Ukraine by keeping borders open, providing adequate reception support, and ensuring full access to asylum.

Finally, even as there has rightly been a global outpouring of support for people fleeing Ukraine, the IRC is calling for equal empathy to be shown for refugees and displaced people in many other crises around the world including Afghanistan, Ethiopia, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Yemen and Syria. These countries too are in need of life-saving funds and an end to persistent conflicts.

What the European Union must do

To date the EU has welcomed refugees fleeing the conflict with dedicated life-saving support. However, it is imperative that EU countries reinforce their commitment to supporting families displaced by war or there could be dire humanitarian consequences.

At this point, 12 months since the escalation of the full-scale war, many refugees are exhausting their savings. Single mothers, the elderly and people with disabilities are particularly vulnerable as they may no longer be able to rely on assistance from friends and family, and face particular difficulties finding work and longer-term housing.

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,” said Michael Despines, IRC Regional Director for the Ukraine Crisis.

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.

How is the IRC helping?

The IRC has been working with local partners in Poland, Ukraine and Moldova since February 2022. Working with partners allows us to bolster the crisis response of people who have already been active in the community and are experts on the local context. Our vital services include:

We are assisting Ukrainian refugees in Romania, Hungary, Slovakia, Czechia and Bulgaria, as well as in Germany, Italy, Greece, the U.S. and the U.K.

Learn more about the IRC's emergency response in Ukraine and Poland.