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Russia-Ukraine War: The Unfolding Humanitarian Crisis in Ukraine

Ukraine, often known as the “breadbasket of Europe,” has been crumbling for the past few weeks. The ballistic insurgency of Russia has left major regions of the country in the ashes.

The unfolding nightmare in Ukraine has roiled the market and is threatening the hunger crisis and global food insecurity.

So, what are the humanitarian challenges Ukraine currently facing? How is the west responding to the unfolding catastrophe? And what happens next?

The Refugee Crisis

Ukraine has been experiencing escalating violence since the beginning of the year, and close to three million people need humanitarian assistance even before the current crisis. And, now, with the escalating war, millions of more refugees are estimated to flee from Ukraine to neighboring countries in the near future, according to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

However, the UN further estimated that 12 million people must receive relief and protection inside Ukraine. Consequently, 16 million people will need humanitarian assistance, according to Janez Lenarčič, Europe’s Commissioner for Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Management.

The concern is especially expressed over the impact on children and families. Due to damaged infrastructure, hundreds of thousands of Ukrainian children lack safe drinking water, heating, and electricity. Furthermore, survivors of the violence around them endure profound trauma, and explosive weapons have injured children in widespread areas.

Source: Statista

Civilians in Ukraine are being urged by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights to avoid populated areas for this reason, especially because civilians are being injured more and more through these kinds of strikes.

Within seven days of conflict, over one million Ukrainians have been displaced outside the country. At this rate, the crisis can still spiral up to become Europe’s biggest refugee crisis.

The Food Crisis in Ukraine

Ukraine and Russia’s grain exports are likely to experience an immediate impact as a result of the crisis.

During military operations, Ukraine’s ability to move crops both within and beyond its borders may be adversely affected, especially if the port and railroad facilities are damaged or cyber-attacks target infrastructures and management.

In 2022, the Luhansk and Donetsk oblasts will produce around 5% barley, 8% wheat, 9% sunflower seeds, and only a small amount of maize. Both Luhansk and Donetsk are located along the Russian border in the easternmost part of the oblasts.

Wheat price hits an all-time high.

However, much of Ukraine’s grain production is concentrated in other parts of the country directly bordering Russia and Belarus, where Russian forces are also deployed: This includes:

  • 10%-15% of barley production
  • 25%-30% of maize and sunflower seed production
  • 20 to 25% of wheat production.

Furthermore, the food shortage is already affecting the food scarcity throughout the world, and the war deepens, the shortage is expected to skyrocket.

“What’s critical here is that the Black Sea offers a logistical and price advantage . . . Costs will rise significantly when [Turkey] buys from the US or Australia. Even if the war ends tomorrow, Ukraine’s planting season has already been disrupted, and it will impact the 2022 harvest regardless.”

 Ismail Kemaloglu, Turkish Grain Board 

How is Europe Responding to the Ukraine Humanitarian Crisis?

The response of Europe has been swift, and experts say it is the biggest mobilization of the continent in the last few years. With more than 547,000 refugees, Poland has received more than half of all new refugees (naturalized citizens and temporary migrant workers).

According to media reports, the country is preparing to accept as many as one million refugees. It has already set up temporary hospitals, housing, and reception centers that provide information, food, and medical supplies.

Belarus, Hungary, Moldova, Romania, Slovakia, and other European countries have taken in the rest of the refugee flow.

About 48 thousand new refugees have fled to Russia. In addition, Irish officials announced that they would waive all visa requirements for Ukrainian refugees seeking refuge in their country. In contrast, Czech Republic officials lifted both entry restrictions and COVID-19 restrictions for refugees.

The European Union (EU) has unanimously approved a plan to activate the bloc’s Temporary Protection Directive, allowing people fleeing Ukraine to enter EU countries for up to three years without applying for asylum. Furthermore, due to the EU visa-free entry policy enacted in 2017, Ukrainian nationals can also seek asylum in any EU member state without a visa. Moreover, the United States has said it will assist with evacuating refugees through its troops in Poland.

The Worsening Devastation

With a wave of refugees seeking shelter in the neighboring countries, the humanitarian crisis is expected to worsen.

Meanwhile, COVID-19 transmission persists in Ukraine, and vaccines fully protect only about 36 percent of Ukrainians. Furthermore, the already-stretched thin country’s health services will make accessing treatment more difficult.