UN: Russian Invasion Sparks ‘Europe’s Largest Refugee Crisis’ of 21st Century

March 2, 2022Joshua Skovlund

One of the roughly 660,000 Ukrainians who escaped the Russian invasion, this 4-year-old boy from the suburbs of Kyiv ended up in Romania. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has sparked a large-scale refugee crisis. UNICEF photo.

Calling the flood of Ukrainians fleeing Russian invaders “Europe’s largest refugee crisis this century,” United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi warned Tuesday, March 1, that the need for humanitarian assistance is skyrocketing by the hour.

Speaking to reporters in Geneva, Grandi estimated roughly 660,000 Ukrainians had fled their country over the span of only six days.

About half of them sought protection in Poland, although UN officials said Hungary, Moldova, Romania, and Slovakia also opened their borders to hundreds of thousands of refugees from Ukraine, including citizens of other countries who escaped the Eastern European country in the wake of Russia’s invasion.

The rush of refugees triggered long lines at the borders, with refugees waiting for up to 60 hours to cross into Poland, often in freezing conditions, officials said.

largest refugee crisis
One of the estimated 660,000 Ukrainians who escaped the Russian invasion, this 9-year-old girl made it to Moldova. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has sparked “Europe’s largest refugee crisis this century,” UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi said. UNICEF photo.

Grandi cautioned reporters that 12 million people inside Ukraine would need humanitarian aid, and relief workers in neighboring countries are bracing for more than 4 million refugees. The UNHCR’s initial appeal is for $1.1 billion to deliver water, sanitation, medical supplies, shelter, and cash assistance to 6 million people inside Ukraine over the next 12 weeks.

Since the illegal annexation of the Crimean Peninsula by Russian troops in 2014, the US has led all nations in aid to Ukraine, according to the US Agency for International Development. In the wake of the latest Russian incursions, USAID pledged an initial $54 million package to feed 125,000 Ukrainians and to provide “high thermal blankets” to 18,500 Ukrainians during the remaining cold months.

The Pentagon also ordered more than 14,000 troops to buttress NATO allies during the crisis. Paratroopers from the 82nd Airborne Division based in Fort Bragg, North Carolina, have assembled in southeastern Poland to aid Ukrainian refugees, but both Army and US European Command officials declined to comment Tuesday about their humanitarian work.

largest refugee crisis
A petroleum supply specialist assigned with 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division, refuels an M1075 Palletized Load System vehicle in Zamosc, Poland, Feb. 22, 2022. US Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Claudia Nix.

Deteriorating conditions inside Ukraine triggered efforts by relief organizations worldwide to speed aid to Europe.

Los Angeles-based nonprofit Operation USA told Coffee or Die Magazine that organizers were prepping to drop-ship hygiene gear, clothing, blankets, food, water, and other basic needs in the coming days.

“We are also working to identify community-based organizations in Poland which are helping refugees to which we may make cash grants to aid in their work,” the charity’s spokesperson, Mary Dolan, said in an email to Coffee or Die.

The charity Project Hope, based in Washington, DC, told Coffee or Die the organization’s initial operations involved assisting both internally displaced Ukrainians and “refugees in neighboring countries fleeing the ongoing invasion.”

Organizers have partnered with the World Health Organization’s Health Cluster in Ukraine to mobilize an emergency response team and to deliver medicine and medical supplies to the besieged nation.

largest refugee crisis
Paratroopers from the 82nd Airborne Division unload humanitarian supplies for the US Agency for International Development in the G2A Arena in Jasionka, Poland, Friday, Feb. 25, 2022. US Army photo by Sgt. Rob Whitlow.

Project Hope teams also are on the ground in Krakow, Poland, and Chisinau, Moldova, to treat Ukrainian families that have crossed the borders, and officials continue to monitor the flow of refugees into Hungary and Slovakia, they said.

The White House is mulling over a bipartisan request from lawmakers and relief organizations to temporarily shield Ukrainians in the US from deportation. In 2020, the US provided the same protection to nearly 30,000 Ukrainians, according to the request jointly signed by Senate Democratic Whip Dick Durbin of Illinois and Sen. Rob Portman, an Ohio Republican.

Others are pushing President Joe Biden to go further, faster. In a Monday letter to the administration, Rhode Island Gov. Daniel J. McKee said the Ocean State “is prepared to welcome with open arms Ukrainian refugees who were forced from their homes by Russian aggression.

“Ukrainian refugees should know that they can find solace and safety in our state.”

Read Next: Missile Strike on Kharkiv, 80% of Russian Forces Now in Ukraine

Joshua Skovlund
Joshua Skovlund

Joshua Skovlund is a former staff writer for Coffee or Die. He covered the 75th anniversary of D-Day in France, multinational military exercises in Germany, and civil unrest during the 2020 riots in Minneapolis. Born and raised in small-town South Dakota, he grew up playing football and soccer before serving as a forward observer in the US Army. After leaving the service, he worked as a personal trainer while earning his paramedic license. After five years as in paramedicine, he transitioned to a career in multimedia journalism. Joshua is married with two children.

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