International Rescue CommitteeThe Ukraine Crisis, Revisited
Arriving in Poland on 1st March, I travelled straight to the border with the IRC emergency response team that was assessing the humanitarian needs in locations such as Medyka and Przemyśl. My first impressions were of people arriving calmly, having driven across the border in cars packed with belongings. As the conflict escalated, however, it became increasingly clear that people were fleeing for their lives. People now arrive with small shopping bags instead of large suitcases. The families arriving in late March were traumatized and quiet; they had fled active conflict.
At the beginning of the crisis, people were in need of shelter, warm clothes, blankets and food, and all of this was covered by local organisations and volunteers who travelled to Poland to help people in need. Most people stayed at reception centres for two to three hours, or two nights at most, as they had family or friends who were hosting them in towns and cities elsewhere in the country. As the weeks progressed, it became clear that the humanitarian needs would lie in the locations where people chose to settle. Parents need jobs, women require trauma counselling, and children need to go back to school.
National NGOs in Poland have warned that significant staffing and investment is still needed. Refugees arriving from Ukraine need sufficient support before becoming self-reliant. Reports suggest that integration procedures and institutions have not received more resources, capacity or staff—and housing is still limited. Longer term, structured integration services must be available to help refugees access language classes, employment, healthcare, housing and education. We know from IRC programming expertise in the UK that where integration services—such as language or job readiness training -are delivered from arrival, refugees settle in more quickly and become active contributors to local communities and economies.
Anastasiia's story comes to mind. You can read it here.
As in most conflicts, women and children from Ukraine are bearing the brunt of this crisis. As men aged between 18-55 unable to leave the country, the majority of those fleeing Ukraine are elderly, women and girls. Many of them did not have time to gather identity documentation like passports and birth certificates when they fled and, as a result, they are at risk of sexual violence, gender-based violence, and trafficking.
The IRC is distributing cash support to Ukrainians living in major cities including Warsaw, and training staff members from partner organizations based in Warsaw and Lublin in protection and safeguarding for women and children. Existing support services that address Gender-Based Violence and prevention will be supported in Warsaw and the IRC will provide technical assistance for staff and responders.
Meanwhile, the IRC will work with partners to launch Safe Healing and Learning Spaces for Children, and a mobile service for mental health and psychosocial support to those living in shelters and transit sites in Warsaw. These Safe Healing and Learning Spaces will provide a safe, caring and predictable environment where children and adolescents in conflict and crisis settings can go during the day, allowing them to do well and thrive, in the immediate term and later in life.
In Poland, it was heartening to witness an entire country mobilizing to make sure people fleeing Ukraine have access to everything they need. Everyone from grassroots activists to local officials, civil society organizations to the national government, pulled together to provide refugees with a warm welcome. Buses provided evacuees with free transportation. And as Ukrainians journeyed further into Poland, they see messages of solidarity beaming from roadside billboards. Volunteers are providing accommodation, food and clothing.