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Ukraine Humanitarian Crisis


After months of posturing while simultaneously denying any plans to attack, Russian President Vladimir Putin’s assaults on multiple cities in Ukraine began overnight on Feb. 24 and continued throughout the day (local time).

Putin stated that Russian forces are targeting Ukrainian military infrastructure, not people or communities. However, deaths have been reported. Ukrainian border guards have reported being shelled from multiple directions overnight, including Belarus and Crimea.

This latest attack is part of a multi-year crisis stemming back to 2014 and beyond.

CNBC reported: “Heightened fears of a military conflict between Russia and Ukraine have been present for some time, and eastern Ukraine has been the location of a proxy war between the two countries. Soon after Russia’s annexation of Crimea from Ukraine in 2014, pro-Russian separatists proclaimed two republics in the eastern part of the country: the Donetsk People’s Republic and the Luhansk People’s Republic — much to the Ukrainian government’s consternation. Since then, there have been ongoing skirmishes and fighting in the region, which is known as the Donbas, between Ukraine’s troops and separatists.”

The Center for Disaster Philanthropy’s (CDP) response to this crisis is focused on humanitarian needs that arise, particularly among internally-displaced peoples (IDPs) and refugees. We are not looking at the conflict itself except in how it affects population movement and humanitarian needs.

According to World Population Review, Ukraine’s current population is 43.3 million people. It states, “Since the 1990s, Ukraine’s population has been declining due to high emigration rates, low birth rates, and high death rates … Many people leave the country because Ukraine is the second-poorest in Europe, is in conflict with Russia to its east, and is beset by corruption. The population is currently declining at a rate of 0.59%, a rate has increased every year since 2015. The United Nations estimates that Ukraine could lose nearly one-fifth of its population by 2050.”

Already people are fleeing the country or leaving areas that have been bombed or at risk of further conflict. The border with Poland already has lines of potential refugees miles long.

ABC News reported, “Western countries and Ukraine’s neighbours are preparing for the likelihood of hundreds of thousands of refugees in the wake of the invasion. The head of the UN refugee agency is warning of ‘devastating consequences’ of Russia’s military action in Ukraine and calling on neighbouring countries to keep their borders open for people fleeing the fighting.”


According to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UN OCHA), which is coordinating humanitarian response efforts in Ukraine and deploying additional surge support through Poland, it will take a few days for the full needs to be known. However, UN OCHA issued a summary of humanitarian needs on Feb. 17, which indicated that while 2.9 people were in need, the humanitarian community’s call for support was focused on the 1.8 million people most directly affected by conflict. In eastern Ukraine, seven years of conflict have left shelter, health, protection and water, sanitation and hygiene and other basic needs in an acute emergency phase.

UN OCHA adds: “The effects of COVID-19 continue to create additional pressure on the struggling civilian population and ageing infrastructure – on top of the ongoing hostilities and protracted humanitarian crisis. As a result of COVID-19 restrictions, conflict-weary people have been dealing with severe obstacles to freedom of movement for almost two years. They have been unable to travel more freely across the 427-kilometre-long [265 miles] “contact line” that splits eastern Ukraine into Government- and non-Government-controlled areas (GCA and NGCA), as only two of the five official entry-exit crossing points (EECPs) have been partially operational since March 2020. The majority of current crossing restrictions are applied by the NGCA side. As a result of the partial closure of the “contact line”, in 2021, there has been a 95 per cent reduction in the number of crossings observed compared with the year before the pandemic: from a monthly average of 1.15 million crossings recorded in 2019 (pre-COVID-19) to 59,000 in 2021. Restrictions on movement have left hundreds of thousands of people, particularly the elderly living in NGCA, with limited access to social benefits and entitlements, essential services, as well as have torn them apart from their families and friends. As a consequence of their increased isolation and the abrupt loss of access to services and livelihoods, the severity of needs of those already vulnerable people has increased.”

Critical and Ongoing Needs

Given the current, ongoing and significant escalation and expansion of the conflict, the full set of needs are yet not known. Our information relies on the 2022 Humanitarian Response Plan for Ukraine launched on Nov. 30, 2021, and the Humanitarian Needs Overview from February 2022. The Plan was already looking for $190 million to protect the most at-risk populations and for the provision of humanitarian aid. However, with the recent escalations, the needs for assistance will likely be significantly higher.

The existing Plan is “a strictly prioritized and comprehensive plan of action – lays out how humanitarian actors aim to assist 1.8 million of the most vulnerable people in the conflict-affected areas. Almost 750,000 of the people targeted live in NGCA, while over 1 million are targeted in GCA, including 144,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs) in the GCA of Donetska, Luhanska and other oblasts. Among the most vulnerable are older persons, who represent 32 per cent of the people targeted for assistance in 2022, and the children of vulnerable families, who make up 14 per cent. The response efforts also aim to meet the critical needs of 225,000 persons with disabilities. The humanitarian community in Ukraine will continue to focus on saving lives, ensuring people’s access to basic services and strengthening the protection of those affected by the conflict and COVID-19. The Plan encompasses different sectors, including education, food, health, protection, shelter, water, sanitation and hygiene.”

The Plan, drafted before the current escalation in the conflict, has three strategic objectives:

  • “Provide emergency and time-critical assistance and ensure access to basic essential services for 1.8 million people affected by the conflict.
  • Respond to the protection needs and strengthen protection of 1.4 million conflict-affected people, including IDPs.
  • Ensure implementation of an international humanitarian exit strategy in GCA from 2021 to 2023.”

The Ukraine Humanitarian Needs Overview indicates that:

  • 252,000 people have educational needs.
  • 1 million people have food security and livelihoods issues.
  • 5 million are in need of health supports.
  • 5 million people require protection.
  • 158,000 require support for shelter and non-food items.
  • 5 million people have ongoing water, sanitation and hygiene concerns.

The scale and urgency of needs are expected to increase and will be reported on as more information becomes available in the coming days. We do know that any family forced from their home needs help with shelter, food, clean water – the absolute basics.

It is also winter in Ukraine, with temperatures regularly below zero. Many families living in the conflict zone already don’t have enough food to eat or clothes to keep warm. With the current escalation, even more will be exposed to the elements and forced to find shelters.

How To Help

The CDP Ukraine Humanitarian Crisis Recovery Fund focuses on addressing humanitarian needs that arise, particularly among the most vulnerable, marginalized and at-risk internally-displaced peoples and refugees. CDP is also in contact with and can grant to Ukrainian and other international organizations that are not 501(c)3 entities.

As with most disasters, cash donations are recommended by disaster experts as they allow for on-the-ground agencies to direct funds to the greatest area of need, support economic recovery and ensure donation management does not detract from disaster recovery needs.

CDP has also created a list of suggestions for foundations to consider related to disaster giving. These include:

  • Understand that recovery is possible in protracted and complex crisis settings: Even while focusing on immediate needs, remember that there are early and long-term recovery needs too. We know that people who have been affected by shocks in complex humanitarian contexts can recover and improve their situation without waiting until the crisis is over, which may take years. Recovery is possible and funding will be needed for recovery efforts alongside humanitarian funding. Recovery will take a long time and funding will be needed throughout.
  • Recognize there are places and ways that private philanthropy can help that other donors may not: Private funders can support nimble and innovative solutions that leverage or augment the larger humanitarian system response, either filling gaps or modeling change that, once tested and proven, can be taken to scale within the broader humanitarian response structure. Philanthropy can also provide sustainable funding to national and local organizations that support operational costs evolution, independence and other efforts on behalf of affected people.
  • All funders are disaster philanthropists: Even if your organization does not work in a particular geographic area or fund immediate relief efforts, you can look for ways to tie disaster funding into your existing mission. If you focus on education, health, children or marginalized populations, disasters present prime opportunities for funding.
  • Ask the experts: If you are considering supporting an organization that is positioned to work in an affected area, do some research. CDP and InterAction can provide resources and guidance about organizations working in affected communities.


If you are a responding NGO or a donor, please send updates on how you are working in this crisis to

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