Ukraine: After Six Months, the Impact of War Continues Devastating Lives

Background media: A group of people of diverse ages, genders and races wearing winter clothes stand in a crowd on a highway, several of whom are on their cell phones. Behind them are dozens of vehicles. Some parked at the side of the road and some are at a standstill on the road itself. There are several roadside signs. Some are billboards and some are directional signs.
Photo: Yanosh Nemesh/Shutterstock
When the war started in February, tens of thousands of people fleeing Ukraine headed for the city of Uzhhorod to cross the border into Slovakia.

Today marks six months since Russia invaded Ukraine.

We've seen an outpour of solidarity and generosity from around the world for those affected. But the war continues to devastate people's lives – and the situation is getting direr as the fighting persists and winter approaches.

Since the start of the conflict on February 24, the United Nations (UN) has recorded close to 13,000 civilians killed or injured in Ukraine. Actual figures, the UN explains, might be higher as it has been challenging to get information from heavily hostile areas while some casualty reports are still being confirmed.

Due to damage or destruction, the country has lost vital infrastructure to provide water, transportation, healthcare, and education services. Consequently, the UN estimates that 17.7 million people – around 40 per cent of the population – require lifesaving humanitarian assistance.

On the other hand, millions have left Ukraine to find safety in neighbouring countries. It's estimated that over six million people have sought protection in Europe alone. Most who have fled are women, children and the elderly, as the Ukrainian government has barred men aged 18 to 60 from leaving the country.

The war's rippling effects are felt well beyond the region.

Global food insecurity is on the rise. Skyrocketing food prices are worsening famine-like conditions in Ethiopia, Kenya, Nigeria, Somalia and Yemen. An energy crisis is threatening to push more people into poverty.

When we first started seeing the influx of refugees, we realized that these people have compound vulnerabilities, who are not only escaping war but could easily fall prey to exploiters.

Ioana Bauer
President of eLiberare, an Oxfam partner in Romania

A group of Ukrainian women cross the border into the village of Medyka. Located in southeastern Poland, it's a major crossing point with Ukraine, seeing over 800,000 people fleeing Ukraine since the start of the war.

The Most Vulnerable People are the Hardest Hit

Fleeing for safety has been hard for elderly, sick, low-income or disabled people. 

Women and girls face higher rates of gender-based violence, including sexual violence perpetrated by soldiers. Their access to healthcare and psychosocial support is limited. 

Children, especially those travelling unaccompanied, are at risk of trafficking and exploitation. 

People from different groups have faced barriers accessing shelter, food, information, and services like healthcare – due to discrimination, language barriers, legal constraints, or a lack of specialized services that fit their needs – including Roma people, LGBTQI+ refugees, third-country nationals, and people of colour.

We can't tell now how the war will impact the LGBTQI+ community in Ukraine, what the results will be in the end. But we know this was a community that was discriminated against before the war, and they will be discriminated against even more after the war.

Anna Leonova
Executive Director of the Gay Alliance Ukraine (GAU), an Oxfam partner

Valentina, 75, is a former English professor from Mykolaiv in southern Ukraine. She arrived in Romania in late April. "I came here alone. I have only one son, and he's now in the army," she explains. "We write to each other every day."

As the War Grinds On, People Worry About the Future

The response of neighbouring countries to Ukrainian refugees has been inspiring, marking a turning point in European migration policy. This approach should be extended to refugees from other countries. 

Many European Union (EU) countries, and other neighbouring states, like Moldova, swiftly passed laws allowing Ukrainians to live and work and access services like national healthcare systems. Similarly, volunteers and community groups at the grassroots level have helped refugees with housing and food. 

But as the war drags on, Ukrainian refugees – and the communities that host and support them – are anxious about the future. Issues like inflation, staggering housing prices, and rising energy costs make hosts and refugees wonder if they can count on continued support and solidarity.

At the beginning of June, the Polish government ended a housing assistance scheme that provided roughly $10 dollars per day to people hosting Ukrainian refugees.

The uncertainty of the following months weighs heavy on refugees and those internally displaced in Ukraine. People worry about finding money to pay for food and medication, providing education for their children when the new school year starts in September, and keeping warm in the upcoming winter.

Another tough challenge we face is the uncertainty. People don't know what will happen in the future. Some were thinking that maybe they'll just stay for one month here until things settle in Ukraine and they'll be able to return. Some went back home just to realize they no longer have a home.

Simona Srebrov
Project Manager at the Romanian Federation of Community Foundations (FFCR), an Oxfam partner in Romania

Katerina, 34, is from Odesa, Ukraine's third-largest city. She arrived in Romania with her children and elderly father in March. They take cooking lessons from the Bronx People Association, a local community center supporting refugees. "My husband and my brother are still in Ukraine," she says. "It's terrible to think they are there and wondering if they'll be okay. It's hard to talk about it."

Local Organizations are Struggling

Local organizations and volunteers have been at the frontlines of this crisis, responding to needs from day one – few had any experience in humanitarian aid. Many volunteers, with work and family responsibilities of their own, can't sustain this substantial level of support indefinitely. 

We need a structural approach to respond to this prolonged crisis.

Oxfam's partner organizations in the region have told us they'd like to see governments and the international community coordinate the response better and provide long-term solutions. Shaping this response should involve local organizations, volunteers, and affected communities. Women must be especially supported as they've shouldered most of the crisis response work.

We had never experienced activities of humanitarian assistance before in our organization. We deliver services in usual times for people with extreme vulnerabilities but never in a context of war, trauma, or emergencies of this kind.

Diana Chiriacescu
National Director of the Federation of Non-Governmental Organizations for Services (FONSS), an Oxfam partner in Romania

Our Call for Solidarity

Oxfam calls for sustained solidarity with the people affected by the war as they begin to feel the impact of exhaustion, inflation, and the energy crisis. We also call on those involved in the response – in the first instance, national governments – to ensure that all people affected by the war, and those fleeing other crises, receive the protection and help they need. This requires attention to groups that have particular needs or face discrimination. It's equally crucial that host communities and civil society receive the assistance necessary for their generous contributions.

Finally, we call on donor communities to continue providing funding to the countries carrying the bulk of responsibility and costs for responding to this conflict. However, this support should not come at the expense of other international crises, as inequality, climate change and conflict are impacting unprecedented numbers of people, putting them at risk of deep poverty and violence.

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