87-year old Galaina is assisted as she flees conflict in Ukraine at the Polish border | © T.Nicholson
After three weeks of intense armed conflict in Ukraine, the most affected populations remain isolated from humanitarian aid. HI prepares its response.
Since March 1st, HI specialists have been assessing the needs of populations throughout Ukraine, Moldova and Romania amid ongoing armed conflict. As initial assessments come to a close and the organization deploys its first operations teams, their findings demonstrate humanitarian needs across multiple sectors.
“The greatest priorities right now are in caring for those injured during the conflict, mental health support of affected individuals and cash distribution among the population,” says Virginie Duclos, HI emergency rehabilitation manager, currently on-site in Ukraine.
Incessant bombing and shelling in populated areas across Ukraine have caused at least 1,900 civilian casualties, including 726 deaths. These official figures likely do not reflect the actual total of casualties, as many reports still remain unverified. The city of Mariupol alone has announced over 2,500 civilian deaths in recent days, and the numbers are expected to grow as the conflict continues.
“We know where the greatest needs are”, Virginie says. “But the problem is access. There are people injured in Kiev, in Mariupol, in Kharkiv and we can anticipate those needs, but these cities are under violent siege and it is very difficult to reach them”
In Mariupol, in the eastern part of Ukraine, authorities say that between 350,000 and 400,000 residents remain trapped in the city under constant bombing, without sufficient food, water or medical care. Due to a serious lack of secure access, families are unable to evacuate and organizations have faced increasing difficulty delivering vital humanitarian aid to the area.
"Our goal is to be present wherever there are needs,” Virginie says. “In the West, we can focus on displaced populations, who also need humanitarian support. In Dnipro, we have contacts in a hospital where injured persons from besieged cities are transferred. We will remain flexible and ready to move if needed."
A total of around 5 million people have now been displaced by the conflict, with over 3 million fleeing to neighbouring countries and nearly 2 million dispersed within Ukraine. HI is present alongside displaced populations in Moldova, where over 300,000 refugees have already crossed the border. Among this group, HI has identified psychosocial support as one of its top response priorities.
“The assessment is still ongoing, but the situation is exactly what you would imagine it to be,” says Virginie. “People have left their homes, they do not know when they will be back, and many have left their husband, father, or brother behind. There is a real need for psychosocial support.”
Shelters vary dramatically in the living conditions they provide and in the resources available to them. Some families were forced to evacuate with little or no belongings, while others were able to pack necessities. Common to all refugees in situations of crisis, however, is the need for cash.
“People need money,” Virginie explains. “Cash is flexible and can be used to meet their immediate needs like paying for housing, buying food, or buying a phone they can use after relocating. Distributing cash will be one of the most important ways to support refugees in this situation, so we are exploring this option.”
HI is actively deploying its operations team and readying the first phases of emergency response. Teams composed of experts in rehabilitation, logistics, mental health and psychosocial support, basic needs and emergency context are present at the borders of Moldova and in multiple regions throughout Ukraine.
In addition to providing specialized rehabilitation services, psychosocial support and cash distribution, among other initiatives, HI will soon be providing assistive mobility devices such as wheelchairs, canes and walkers to elderly populations and persons with disability. HI is working alongside fellow actors responding to the emergency to help implement inclusive humanitarian aid and ensure that the most vulnerable populations have access to vital resources.