War has caused the world’s largest displacement crisis

  • The crisis in Ukraine has pushed the country into the IRC’s Emergency Watchlist for the first time since 2017.
  • Conflict is likely to continue into 2023, with civilians increasingly at risk of injury, illness and death.
  • Russian missile strikes could leave millions without water, electricity and heating in winter.
  • More than 6.5 million Ukrainians have been displaced inside the country, while 7.8 million more are refugees across Europe.
Learn more about crises on the 2023 Watchlist.

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 since World War II. Of these, over 6 million have fled to neighbouring countries as refugees, and millions more people displaced within Ukraine are also in need of urgent humanitarian assistance. Many are stranded or are unable to leave Ukraine due to increasing violence, destruction of bridges and roads, as well as lack of resources or information on where to find safety and accommodation.

What caused the current crisis in Ukraine?

On February 24, 2022, Russia deployed its military into neighbouring Ukraine. Bombs and shelling continue to escalate, damaging homes, hospitals, schools and other civilian infrastructure.

Some 6.5 million people have now been displaced inside Ukraine, while almost 3.5 million have fled to neighbouring 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 with NATO. Russia regards these efforts as an economic and strategic threat to its own security.

This escalation in tensions comes on top of an existing humanitarian crisis in Ukraine. In 2014, Russia invaded and then 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.

Learn more about what's happening in Ukraine.

What are the main humanitarian challenges in Ukraine?

The Russia-Ukraine conflict may result 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.

As the attacks continue, people who remain in Ukraine are enduring the dangers of life under siege, even as they try to cope without adequate water, heat and electricity. Freezing temperatures are making conditions for those seeking shelter in basements and subway stations even more unbearable. And roads and bridges made impassible by bombs and shelling are hindering access to food and other basic necessities.

Millions of people in Ukraine have been uprooted from their homes, among them over 5.5 million who have fled to neighbouring countries. The majority of those on the move are women and children, who are always most at risk of exploitation and abuse during crises.

The war has weakened Ukraine's infrastructure and sent the country's economy into drastic decline. Hospitals and ambulances have been attacked. The Ukrainian health system was already fragile, having been heavily impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. Tens of throusands of women will give birth in the coming months in Ukraine—many of them without access to critical maternal health care if the crisis continues to shut down essential services.

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

Beyond Ukraine

The war will also have far-reaching humanitarian implications across Europe and the globe, destabilizing the continent, and straining the resources of Ukraine’s neighbors. It will also impact supplies of Ukrainian-grown wheat and other food staples for countries like YemenLibya and Lebanon that are already facing acute levels of food insecurity.

Read about three ways the conflict in Ukraine will drive up hunger in other crisis zones.

What is the situation for refugees from Ukraine?

Russia's invasion of Ukraine has already resulted in one of the largest refugee crises facing the world today as the war continues to force people—most of them women, girls and the elderly—to flee across borders to Poland, Moldova and other European states.

Over 5.5 million refugees have had to leave their homes in Ukraine since February 24, most of them seeking safety in Poland.

Huge numbers of people continue to arrive at Ukraine’s borders with Poland, Romania, Hungary, Slovakia and Moldova with only what they can carry. In many places there are long waits to cross and scant facilities waiting for them on the other side. Urgent needs include food, water, emergency shelter, health care and sanitation facilities, and protection and trauma counselling.

Women and girls, especially those travelling alone, could be at risk of exploitation and abuse, including sexual violence, gender-based violence and trafficking.

How is the IRC helping in Ukraine and Poland?

In Ukraine, we are working with local partners to provide emergency assistance to people displaced from their homes. Our response includes:

  • Supporting evacuation efforts for women and children
  • Delivering groceries, blankets, warm clothes and stoves
  • Cash assistance
  • Providing information about housing, employment and refugee rights
  • Offering psychological care through a dedicated hotline

We are on the ground in Poland, working with partners to provide support to refugees, families hosting refugees, and government refugee reception centres on the Poland/Ukraine border. Our response includes:

  • Providing psychosocial support and translation services
  • Offering legal assistance and specialized support for women through a dedicated hotline
  • Supplying medical equipment and other support to health teams operating at border crossing points and in refugee reception centres
  • Providing blankets, sleeping bags and other essentials.
  • Setting up cash assistance programs.

The IRC is also speaking out. Our Policy and Advocacy team works alongside our supporters to fight for policies that deliver real change for people in need of protection. Among the changes we are calling for:

  • An immediate ceasefire
  • An immediate cease to all violations of international law to spare additional harm to civilians and avoid further displacement
  • International donors and world leaders to prioritize the support and protection services of women and girls, who are at particular risk
  • Europe and the U.S. to welcome refugees

Learn more about the IRC's Ukraine response and how we respond to emergencies.

Our impact

5.5 million

Since Feb. 24, more than 5.5 million people have been forced to flee Ukraine, seeking safety with what little they can carry and not knowing what will happen next.

Refugees from Ukraine have fled the violence in their country.

Read some of their stories

3 million

Three million people have fled to Poland since Feb. 24, making this the fastest displacement crisis since the Second World War.

7 million

Increasing violence and destruction have stranded millions or left them unable to leave Ukraine. Information on where to find safety is scarce.

People are displaced inside Ukraine as violence continues.

What people trapped in Ukraine's besieged cities need