United Nations agencies have launched an emergency appeal to respond to soaring humanitarian needs following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, urgently requesting $1.7bn to help people who have fled the country and those still there.
The UN estimates that 12 million people in Ukraine will need relief and protection, while it projected that more than four million Ukrainian refugees may need help in neighbouring countries in the coming months.
“The crisis has turned very ugly very fast,” Martin Griffiths, under-secretary-general for humanitarian affairs and emergency relief coordinator, told reporters at a news conference in Geneva on Tuesday.
“This is the darkest hour for the people of Ukraine,” Griffiths said.
“We must turn that initial shock and disbelief and uncertainty about the days to come into compassion and solidarity with the millions of ordinary Ukrainians who now need emergency relief and protection.”
Up to 40 percent of the funds will be distributed to people directly in cash.
The aid programme also includes food, water and sanitation, support for healthcare and education services, and shelter assistance to rebuild damaged homes.
The plan also aims to support the authorities in maintaining and setting up transit and reception centres for displaced people.
Speaking at the same briefing, the head of the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) warned that many more vulnerable people will begin fleeing their homes in Ukraine if Russia’s military offensive continues and further urban areas are hit.
Filippo Grandi told reporters in Geneva that his agency has so far recorded 677,000 people fleeing from Ukraine to neighbouring countries, with about half of those currently in Poland.
Queues along the border are now tens of kilometres long, and some people are having to wait for days to cross.
“It is likely that if the military offensive continues and urban centres are hit one after the other, that we will see more and more people with less resources, with less connections, more vulnerable in every respect,” he said.
About 90,000 refugees were in Hungary and tens of thousands in other neighbouring countries such as Moldova, Slovakia and Romania, he added.
Within a 24-hour period, the total number of Ukrainian refugees as estimated by UNHCR had increased by 150,000.
Grandi criticised instances where non-Ukrainians fleeing the country had reportedly suffered discrimination, but said this did not appear to be the result of government policies.
We are looking at what could become Europe’s largest refugee crisis this century,” the UN official added.
Moreover, Grandi said, his agency will be coming back later this month for help from donor nations on other refugee crises around the world – including assistance for the Rohingya, Syria and Afghanistan refugees.
“We should not forget that there are people elsewhere who continue to suffer and are in need of international attention, resources and quest for a solution,” he added.