On 24 February, a new phase in the armed conflict in Ukraine started with the intensification and spread of the hostilities that are now affecting most parts of the country and causing major concern for the protection of civilians and essential civilian infrastructure. This comes after months of rising political and military tensions and eight years of conflict in and around Eastern Ukraine where an estimated 2.9 million people were already in need of humanitarian assistance and 1.4 million were internally displaced.
With the onset of hostilities, hundreds of thousands of people in Ukraine have left their homes, with more than 160,000 people reportedly internally displaced and as of 28 February, over 360,000 having crossed the borders into the neighbouring countries of Poland (over 200,000), Moldova, Romania, Hungary, Slovakia, and Belarus –within just four days since the start of intensified hostilities. More than 120,000 people were also evacuated to Russia from eastern Ukraine in the day before the hostilities intensified.
This rapid evolution of the situation on Ukraine’s borders and ongoing active military action inside Ukraine does not allow the humanitarian community to have much clarity on existing and immediate needs, particularly inside Ukraine. However, the needs are expected to be massive and to affect all regions of Ukraine, neighbouring countries and beyond. Current estimates and scenarios indicate that as many as five million people can be displaced as the situation evolves, with many more impacted, including those already in need and displaced in Eastern Ukraine at the onset of this ongoing escalation.
In the meantime, the COVID-19 pandemic and high transmissibility of the Omicron variant is still a serious concern. Ukraine and many neighbouring countries have low vaccination rates. Sanitary restrictions are still enforced and will need to be coped with, even in the midst of this large-scale armed conflict and massdisplacements in neighbouring countries.
The current situation in Ukraine is governed by the four 1949 Geneva Conventions, its First Additional Protocol from 1977 and customary international humanitarian law. The International Red Cross Red Crescent Movement (the Movement) calls upon concerned authorities to support and facilitate the humanitarian response of Movement partners, including by ensuring that any restrictive measures contain effective protection of the humanitarian space, by managing any support to the parties responsibly as well as supporting the parties in fulfilling their responsibilities under International Humanitarian Law.