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8 Things You Need To Know About the Ukrainian Refugee Crisis

Over the last week, our hearts have been broken as we watch images of mothers and children fleeing Ukraine while their husbands, sons, fathers and brothers stay behind to fight. Indiscriminate violence is placing innocent lives in danger, with reports already indicating a tragic loss of life. Hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians are beginning to come to terms with the shocking reality of life as a refugee. As the situation continues to unfold, we will keep you updated and informed. Read on to learn more about what’s happening in Ukraine, the growing refugee crisis, and what you can do to help.

1. What’s going on in Ukraine and why are people fleeing?

Russian-Ukrainian tension has existed since the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991. Then, the largest country in the world suddenly collapsed into 15 smaller European nations, including Ukraine. At the time, Vladimir Putin, now president of Russia, called the collapse ​​the “greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the 20th century.” Since the fall, Putin has desired to reclaim the lost territory, which he sees as “a single whole.” 

Today, threatened by the expansion of Western influence and Ukraine’s desire to join NATO — The North Atlantic Treaty Organization — Russia feels a greater need and urgency than ever to exert and protect its influence in the region.

February saw a huge troop buildup along Ukrainian borders. On Thursday, February 24th, 2022, Russia launched a full-scale invasion of the country.

Civilian targets are not being spared. Indiscriminate bombing has damaged residential buildings, hospitals, schools, and crucial infrastructure that supplies heat, water, and electricity to citizens. 

As of March 3rd, over one million refugees had fled across neighboring borders. This number is estimated to grow to over seven million during the coming weeks and months.

2. Where are people going? What’s happening at the borders?

Most Ukrainians are fleeing for their closest border with neighboring European countries. The sudden wave of people gathering at border crossings has created large humanitarian needs. These locations are in urgent need of basic necessities including water, food, heat and shelter as the wait at the border for processing can take three to four days. As of March 3rd, Poland has been the primary recipient of refugees, with over 548,000 refugees crossing. Other countries that are seeing large numbers* of refugees are:

  • Hungary 139,686
  • Moldova 97,827
  • Slovakia 72,200
  • Romania 51,261
  • Russia 47,800
  • Belarus 357

*These numbers reflect reports as of March 3rd, 2022.

3. Who is fleeing?

Tragically, it is mostly women and children who are crossing the borders alone. Men between the ages of 18-60 have been asked by Ukrainian President Zelensky to stay behind to join the defense forces. This means women and children are leaving home without their husbands, fathers and brothers. This is also resulting in grave concerns about security and protection as many young women and children without adult guardians are crossing unaccompanied without money or visas. Unfortunately, this makes them extremely susceptible to sexual violence, exploitation and trafficking. UNICEF, IOM and others are mobilizing protection units to be spread along the border crossings.

4. There has been talk of discrimination at the border. What’s going on there?

There is a large concern about third-country nationals — citizens of other countries who were in Ukraine at the time war began. Many were students studying in Ukraine from Africa. Initial reports indicated that many of these individuals were not being permitted to cross the border out of Ukraine to Poland with others, and were actually barricaded for a time in shelters without basic expected facilities. Furthermore, many others without documentation (passports, etc.) were simply refused shelter and instead temporarily detained. However, after swift international media concern, this problem seems to have been resolved and officials are now allowing everyone to enter Poland regardless of ethnicity, refugee status or documentation.

5. Are there any policies in place in the E.U. and/or U.S. that could help protect Ukrainian Refugees?

Poland is currently considering passing a Parliamentary Act giving temporary residence rights to refugees coming in from Ukraine which would permit people to work and live in the country. This would be hugely beneficial to the millions seeking to rebuild their lives following this conflict.

In terms of U.S. policies, the Biden administration granted Temporary Protected Status (TPS) to Ukrainians who are already in the U.S. This allows those whose temporary visas may be about to expire or who may have overstayed a temporary visa to stay lawfully in the U.S. Additionally, this also allows them to gain work authorization to work to support themselves, rather than being required to return to Ukraine at a time when doing so would be incredibly dangerous. We’re thankful for this action.

Beyond that, the Biden administration and Congress should continue to focus on rebuilding the U.S. refugee resettlement program and our asylum system so that Ukrainians and others who have fled their homes with credible fear of persecution can find refuge in the U.S. going forward.

6. Will Ukrainian refugees come to the U.S?

Historically, a significant number of Ukrainians have come to the United States, including many admitted through the U.S. refugee resettlement program through a specific provision known as the Lautenberg Amendment, which offers resettlement to particular religious minorities from the Former Soviet Union.  

World Relief has resettled over 13,000 refugees from Ukraine over the past 18 years. In fact, in the last 10 years, World Relief resettled 7,300 Ukrainians. That is nearly 40 percent of all Ukrainian refugees resettled to the U.S. during that time.

Our hearts and prayers are with the many Ukrainians we’ve walked alongside. This includes many on staff in the United States who are originally from Ukraine. And who are now deeply concerned for loved ones still within the country.   

While some fleeing Ukraine could eventually qualify for resettlement to the U.S., most are going to neighboring countries in Europe . So far, these countries have been willing to offer safety and protection. 

We do anticipate that some Ukrainians who already have temporary U.S. visas may travel to the U.S. Once here, they may consider seeking asylum. World Relief’s immigration legal services teams are actively providing guidance to those in the U.S. on the legal possibilities for seeking asylum or pursuing family reunification visas. 

More information for Ukrainians in the United States is here.

7. What is World Relief doing to help Ukrainians?

World Relief is currently preparing to send funds to our partners in the region. These partners are providing assistance on the ground. 

We are also ready to resettle Ukrainian refugees when we have the opportunity. And we are providing assistance to those already in the U.S. who are desperately seeking help for their families. The situation is changing rapidly. But so are the ways we can respond.

Above all, we are constantly lifting those in need up in prayer — whether for peace in Ukraine or relief from disasters around the world.

8. How can I help?

PRAY: As in all things, we first turn to prayer. Pray for peace in Ukraine, for wisdom and courage for the global leaders involved, and for faith and comfort for the families suffering in the midst of this conflict right now.

ADVOCATE: You can urge the Biden administration to provide emergency humanitarian funding. This will help meet the immediate needs of displaced Ukrainians and those who remain in Ukraine. The response will include partnering with local organizations in Ukraine and neighboring countries. Additionally, you can encourage countries of refuge to continue to provide protection for displaced Ukrainians by processing and providing legal protections for refugees and other displaced persons.

GIVE: Finally, you can offer financial support at this crucial time by giving to World Relief’s Disaster Response fund, mobilizing our partners, churches and staff to respond to the critical needs of the most vulnerable needlessly suffering in Ukraine and around the world

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