Almost a Quarter of Ukrainians Now Displaced, UN Agency Says

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MORE than 10 million Ukrainians, nearly a quarter of the population, have been displaced since Russia invaded the country a bit more than one month ago, the U.N. refugee agency UNHCR says.

An estimated 3,7 million people have fled to neighbouring countries, while more than 6,5 million have been displaced inside Ukraine since the Russian invasion began February 24. U.N. refugee officials say another 13 million are stranded in conflict areas, unable to leave because of the danger.

From the western city of Lviv, UNHCR Ukraine representative Karolina Lindholm Billing says everything has changed for Ukraine in the past month. She says development projects, homes, and social structures have been turned into rubble under the relentless Russian bombing.

She says the past month has reversed and set back the many development gains that have been achieved for disabled children, the elderly, and many other vulnerable people over the past eight years.

“We are today confronted with the realities of a massive humanitarian crisis, which is growing by the second. And the seriousness of the situation in Ukraine cannot be overemphasized. Overnight, lives have been shattered and families ripped apart. And today, these millions of people in Ukraine live in constant fear of indiscriminate shelling and heavy bombardment,” she said.

Lindholm Billing says UNHCR staff is working around the clock to deliver as much humanitarian aid as it can to wherever possible.

Russian forces have become bogged down around the capital, Kyiv, and have suffered setbacks elsewhere in the country. Media reports suggest Russian President Vladimir Putin is changing tactics and plans to concentrate on the so-called liberation of the Donbas region in eastern Ukraine.

Russian-backed rebels in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions have been fighting a war of separation from Ukraine for eight years.

Matilda Bogner, who heads the U.N. Monitoring Mission in Ukraine, says Russian bombers do not distinguish between people living on either side of the 500-kilometer contact line separating government- and rebel-held territories.

“People are dying on what was before both sides of the contact line. Now, there is no clear contact line. There is a sort of front of fighting there, but people are dying in the areas that are controlled by the Russian-affiliated armed groups and they are dying in the areas of the East that are controlled by the government,” she said.

Bogner says all civilians in this area are victims.

Putin’s justification for waging war in Ukraine was to stop the alleged mistreatment and so-called genocide of Russian speakers in the Donbas.