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8 Things You Need To Know About the Ukrainian Refugee Crisis

A full-scale invasion of Ukraine is underway. More than 14 million Ukrainian women, men and children have been forced to flee their homes, nearly 6.8 million of whom have fled to other countries. Together, we can respond. 

World Relief is currently working with partners on the ground in Romania, Slovakia, Poland, Moldova and Western Ukraine to provide lodging, medical assistance, food and other basic necessities to those who have fled. As the situation continues to unfold, we are committed to keeping 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.

Updated on June 1, 2022

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, when the then 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. The last month saw a huge troop buildup along Ukrainian borders, and on Thursday, February 24th, 2022, Russia launched a full-scale invasion of the nation. Civilian targets are not being spared, as indiscriminate bombing has damaged residential buildings, hospitals, schools and crucial infrastrcuture that supplies heat, water and electricity to citizens. 

As of June 1st, nearly  6.8 million refugees have fled across neighboring borders. This number is estimated to continue growing 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 June 1st, Poland has been the primary recipient of refugees, with over 3.5 million refugees crossing. Other countries that are seeing large numbers* of refugees are:

  • Romania 972,203
  • Russia 945,007
  • Hungary 654,664
  • Moldova 473,690
  • Slovakia 446,755
  • Belarus 27,308

Additionally, more than 7 million Ukrainians remain displaced inside Ukraine.

*These numbers reflect reports as of June 1st, 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, making 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. 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 has passed a Parliamentary Act granting temporary residence rights and assistance to refugees coming from Ukraine, permitting people to work, attend school and live in the country.

In terms of U.S. policies, the Biden administration has granted Temporary Protected Status (TPS) to Ukrainians who are already in the U.S., allowing those whose temporary visa may be about to expire or who may have overstayed a temporary visa to stay lawfully in the U.S. and be authorized 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.

In March, the White House announced that it would resettle up to 100,000 Ukrainians to the U.S. and provide more than $1 billion in humanitarian aide to those affected by the crisis. In April, the administration also announced a new, streamlined process to welcome Ukrainians called “Uniting for Ukraine.” Through the program, U.S. based individuals, churches and organizations can apply to sponsor Ukrainian citizens displaced by Russia’s aggression during a temporary, 2-year stay in the U.S.

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?

The Biden administration announced in March that it would resettle up to 100,000 Ukrainians 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, the 7,300 Ukrainians whom World Relief has resettled just in the past decade represent nearly 40 percent of all Ukrainian refugees resettled to the U.S. during that time frame. Our hearts and prayers are with the many Ukranians we’ve walked alongside— including many who have joined our staff in the United States — who are originally from Ukraine and who, are now deeply concerned for loved ones still within the country.   

More information for Ukrainians in the United States is here.

7. What is World Relief doing to help Ukrainians?

World Relief is currently working with partners on the ground in Romania, Slovakia, Poland, Moldova and Western Ukraine to provide lodging, medical assistance, food and other basic necessities to those who have fled. You can listen to an update from one of our partners here

We are also continuing to resettle Ukrainian refugees through the Lautenberg program whenever we have the opportunity and are providing assistance to those already in the U.S. who are desperately seeking help for their families. The situation is changing rapidly, and so are the ways in which we will be called to respond.

In all things, 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 continue providing emergency humanitarian funding to meet the immediate needs of those who are displaced, as well as vulnerable Ukrainians who remain in Ukraine, including by partnering with local organizations in Ukraine and neighboring countries. You can also 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: 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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