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UNHCR alarmed at growing humanitarian needs around Kharkiv, Ukraine

Briefing notes

UNHCR alarmed at growing humanitarian needs around Kharkiv, Ukraine

This is a summary of what was said by UNHCR spokesperson Shabia Mantoo – to whom quoted text may be attributed – at today’s press briefing at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.
21 May 2024
A large group of people are registered on computers by five UNHCR staff at a busy transit centre

Recently displaced Ukrainians gather at a transit centre in Kharkiv city. 

UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, is extremely worried about the worsening situation and resulting spike in humanitarian needs and forced displacement owing to the new ground offensive by the Russian Federation Armed Forces in the northeastern Kharkiv region of Ukraine.

At the same time, relentless aerial attacks continue, prolonging and exacerbating an already dire situation. More than two years since Russia’s full-scale invasion, regular shelling and attacks continue to claim lives and destroy homes and critical infrastructure across the country. Most recently, last week on 19 May, an air attack targeted a recreation area in Cherkaska Lozova village in Kharkiv region, killing six people and injuring at least 27.

In the past week, more than 10,300 people were evacuated from their villages in Kharkiv region’s border areas by Ukrainian authorities with the help of volunteers and humanitarian organizations. The majority of the evacuees, who had to escape their homes with only a few belongings, are already highly vulnerable and include mainly older people and those with low mobility or disabilities who were not able to flee earlier. Psychologists with whom UNHCR partners report that as a consequence, many are suffering from acute stress.

To receive and support many of the highly vulnerable evacuees, a transit center was immediately set up in Kharkiv city by the authorities and humanitarian organizations, including UNHCR and our national NGO partners Proliska and Right to Protection. They have now been registered as internally displaced people, provided with different types of humanitarian assistance such as basic relief items, psychosocial and legal aid, enrolled for cash assistance and advised on available accommodation options. 

The vast majority of evacuees have expressed a clear wish to stay with family members or in rental accommodation and collective sites in Kharkiv and not move further from their homes, to be able to return when the situation allows. Alongside other humanitarian partners, and in coordination with authorities, UNHCR is exploring additional options for temporary accommodation.

At the same time, more people continue to flee from frontline communities in Donetsk, Sumy, Zaporizhzhia and Kherson regions towards central and western regions. Here, the authorities leading the response are requesting support to help receive and assist the internally displaced people.

UNHCR is concerned that conditions in Kharkiv – Ukraine’s second largest city, which is already hosting some 200,000 internally displaced people – could become even more difficult if the ground offensive and relentless aerial attacks continue. This could force many to leave Kharkiv for safety and survival, seeking protection elsewhere. Under the leadership of the UN Humanitarian Coordinator, OCHA is coordinating the development of enhanced response preparedness levels with the humanitarian clusters and lead agencies. 

Last week, Kharkiv city experienced an air raid alert that lasted 16 hours non-stop. In addition, the attacks on energy infrastructure that have been impacting people across Ukraine are particularly critical in Kharkiv, where the energy supply is already well below standard capacity, affecting households, production capacity and the economy.

To ensure that UNHCR and partners can respond to the evolving situation, it is crucial that donors maintain robust and flexible funding for our humanitarian and recovery programmes. This also includes support to the winter response later this year, as the comprehensive damage to energy facilities is estimated to significantly increase the need for humanitarian assistance during the cold season. As of end of April, UNHCR’s response in Ukraine is just 16 per cent funded from a total of $598.9 million required.

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