Ukraine Conflict: Europe’s humanitarian disaster

Written By: Akanksha Swarup
New Delhi Updated: Feb 27, 2022, 02:44 PM(IST)

A massive humanitarian crisis is unfolding in Europe. Photograph:( Reuters )

Story highlights

While the bulk of Ukrainian refugees have received steadfast support from Poland, many are seeking asylum in other neighbouring nations i.e., Hungary, Romania, Slovakia and Moldova

Cars with Ukrainian license plates have been queuing up at the borders of Poland, Hungary and Romania. Some manage to cross over while others are left abandoned after running out of gas.   

Packed railway and bus stations, flooded streets and highways. This is the new reality of Ukraine as a massive humanitarian crisis unfolds in Europe, one that experts are estimating to be Europe’s largest refugee crisis since World War Two. The panic is palpable.   

On Wednesday, the US Ambassador to the United Nations, Linda Thomas-Greenfield told the General Assembly that as many as five million Ukrainians could be displaced and that nearly three million are already displaced.   

Two days after Russia’s invasion, Poland’s Interior Ministry confirmed that 115,000 people had crossed over to Poland from Ukraine, a figure that’s on a rapid rise.   

In the meantime, Poland has set up reception centres offering meals and medical care to the refugees; a majority of whom are reportedly the elderly, women and children. The UN estimates that Ukraine’s 54 per cent of people in need of assistance are women, 30 per cent are elderly, 13 per cent are children and 13 per cent have disabilities.   

As for men aged between 18 and 60, social media is swamped with accounts of Ukrainian personnel yanking men out of buses and roads to conscript them in the army.  

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While the bulk of Ukrainian refugees have received steadfast support from Poland, many are seeking asylum in other neighbouring nations i.e., Hungary, Romania, Slovakia and Moldova.  

Unlike 2015 when Muslim Syrian refugees were not entirely welcomed by Hungary, Ukraine’s Christian population is at least not receiving a stony reception.   

Consider the complex question; What happens when the wave of unity begins to wane? This as displacement numbers grow especially taking into account the possibility that Ukraine conflict is not short-lived. Not to forget, UN’s estimate of an additional one million people in Ukraine that are already displaced internally due to Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014.  

Advocacy Group, Refugees International has warned of further displacement and suffering during the Ukraine conflict. In a statement by its President, Eric P Schwartz, the organisation says, “In going to war against Ukraine, Russia is creating a crisis that risks displacement and suffering on a scale that could surpass any seen in Europe in decades. Millions of people are in danger. As efforts to deter Russia fail, governments of the world must be prepared to provide assistance and protection for people who are forced to flee, as well as those who may become civilian victims of military action.”  

It is for this reason that the United States must contribute to ease the burden of its western allies. While the US along with the EU, the UK, Japan, Canada, Taiwan and New Zealand have announced a series of sanctions targeting Russia’s core financial infrastructure, oil refineries and military exports, are sanctions enough? Immediate action by the United States to rescue refugees is real damage control and need of the hour.   

Interestingly, the United States is known to be a generous donor of humanitarian assistance in the world. Reportedly, US contribution to alleviate the Syrian crisis reached a whopping figure of $3.8 billion. But the paradox is that the United States provides assistance to the very crises it is fuelling with its own military actions and partnerships. Case in point are the US military operations in Iraq, Syria and the most recent being Afghanistan.   

The West, especially Europe and the US, need a framework that includes not only the rescue of refugees but also one that protects them from secondary harms, like human rights violations.   

Are wealthy Western democracies prepared to take on the obligation to rescue Ukrainian refugees?  

On the ground in Ukraine to film a documentary on Russia’s invasion, actor and activist, Sean Penn has condemned the Russian President, Vladimir Putin for what Penn called “a most horrible mistake for all of humankind.”   

The fact is wars only lead to destruction. They end lives and livelihoods. Childhood, marriages and families are destroyed. Putin is the tyrant behind the ruin of Ukraine but the incompetence of NATO especially, the US, unable to contain the ruthless expansionist is equally reprehensible. 

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