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Putin’s Ukraine Invasion Sparks A Major Humanitarian Crisis

Four million Ukrainians flee to neighboring countries.

Europe is dealing with a fleeing population, the likes of which it has not witnessed since the Second World War.

The Numbers

According to UNHCR numbers, as of 30th March 2022, five weeks since Russia invaded Ukraine, 4,137,842 Ukrainians have crossed into neighboring countries as they fled the war. Considering that Ukraine's population was about 41.1 million before the Russian attack, about 10.1% of the Ukrainian people are now refugees. These are just the official figures of those who have crossed at official checkpoints and border crossings.

The exodus from Ukraine towards the west, to countries such as Poland, Romania, Slovakia, Hungary, and Moldova, peaked as Russian forces bombed Ukrainian cities, hospitals, and other civilian infrastructure.

Poland has seen the largest influx so far. More than 2.3 million Ukrainians have crossed into the country since 24th February 2022. Romania, with over 600,000 refugees, ranks next on the list. Moldova, Hungary, and Slovakia have each given refuge to over 300,000 Ukrainians.

Pew Research Center analysis of United Nations data estimated it as "the sixth-largest refugee outflow over the past 60-plus years."

Refugee influx from Ukraine in neighboring countries - April 2, 2022

Internal Displacement

The UNHCR has forewarned that a Russo-Ukraine war could make four million people refugees. Those numbers have already been crossed as per official records.

Another 6.5 million Ukrainians are thought to be internally displaced. With Russian forces continuing to pound the cities, there are fears that civilian casualties may also rise. With food and water running low and still in the grip of cold weather, Ukrainians who have been unable to leave or chosen to stay may be in for more challenging days.

Added Danger

What makes the refugee crisis all the more troubling is that most of those fleeing the invasion are women and children. Men under the age of sixty are required by law to stay in Ukraine and fight the Russian forces.

Disturbing reports that human traffickers were exploiting the situation, preying on the scared and displaced women and young children had emerged right at the onset of the crisis. Though vigilance has been ramped up in the refugee camps, train stations, and other places where the refugees congregate, those on the ground say it is nearly impossible to save everyone from the clutches of those promising safety and freedom with ulterior and sinister motives.

Reports of racial profiling at border crossings had also surfaced during the past few weeks. Some people of African descent and some from Asian communities reported being denied permission to leave Ukraine.

Refuge And Aid

Unlike during the Syrian refugee crisis, fortunately, all twenty-seven EU members have opened their borders and offered to provide sanctuary.

The EU is permitting those Ukrainians who have left the country since the Russian attack started the right o stay and work anywhere within its twenty-seven member countries for the next three years. The law, which was passed during the Balkan wars, is being enacted for the first time. Along with social welfare, housing, medical treatment, and schooling for the children, at least those who have made it out of the war-torn country are receiving assistance to rebuild their lives.

Those crossing the border are received with gifts of food and warm clothing. Train companies offer free rides across Europe for Ukrainians attempting to reach family and friends settled elsewhere.

Bearing The Brunt

Ukrainians without such connections will lean on local governments and aid agencies to find their footing again. Discussions on further equitably distributing Ukrainian refugees so that no one country or region is overwhelmed are underway.

Poland and Moldova have already requested more international aid and support. Stretched thin by the Covid-19 pandemic, Warsaw's healthcare system and essential services are ill-equipped to deal with the massive influx of refugees.

Aware of the refugee crisis's enormous strain on the east European countries, the EU is setting aside tens of billions of dollars from its budget to cover the cost of rehabilitating them.

Extending A Welcome

The slow response to the refugee crisis, especially from the U.S. and UK, has drawn criticism. Britain launched a family visa scheme for Ukrainians who have an immediate or extended family member already in the UK. Towards the end of March, 22,800 visas were issued under this scheme.

The U.S. has announced that it will welcome 100,000 Ukrainians fleeing the war. The Lautenberg program could help Ukrainians of religious minorities to find a home in the U.S. Expedited visas and humanitarian parole, a temporary immigration program, could facilitate the relocation of at least some Ukrainian refugees. As yet, the administration has not given details as to when the beneficiaries of these schemes will reach American shores.

But, these numbers make for just a drop in the ocean. With the peace talks making little headway, the crisis will likely worsen. And for Ukrainians, their hopes for returning to their homeland will dwindle.

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