Approximately one-third of Ukraine’s population has been forced out of their homes since the Russian invasion in February, including more than 6.27 million internally displaced people, according to the International Organization for Migration. Disappeared with the war.
According to the United Nations refugee agency, the number of internally displaced people dwarfs 4.8 million Ukrainians who have fled to Europe as refugees, describing the level of unseen displacement since World War II.
Although large parts of the country were the victims of the brutality of the Russian invasion in its first weeks, most of the displaced in Ukraine are now coming from the east, as the region has become a center of conflict.
By train and bus, civilians have fled from cities and towns in eastern Ukraine, fleeing for relative safety to the western and northern capitals of Kiev. Some have left the humanitarian convoy, navigating treacherous roads under the threat of gunfire or shelling. Others have walked away, literally running for their lives.
And since Russian forces are now training their artillery in the eastern province of Donetsk, with the goal of occupying all the industrial Donbass territories, more and more people are being forced out of their homes every day. The head of the regional military government, Pavlo Kirilenko, said on Wednesday in a telegram social messaging app that five civilians had been killed in Donetsk in the past 24 hours in a shelling by Russian forces.
For several days, Mr. Kirilenko advised residents to leave the province, a sign that Ukrainian authorities believe the fighting will escalate further. Officials are hoping to avoid trying to move the neighboring province to a larger size, such as Luhansk, which has fallen into the hands of the Russians in recent days.
Only three million people have been officially registered as internally displaced, although the actual number is thought to be more than double that. Lack of international humanitarian assistance has further strained local resources.
“The state was not prepared for such a large number of displaced people in many areas,” Ukraine’s Deputy Minister of Social Policy Vitaly Muzichenko told a news conference this week, where he announced new plans to register displaced people for state benefits.
This massive displacement has reshaped communities across the country, even those who have survived the physical devastation of war. Shelters have been set up in public buildings, university dormitories have been converted and some modular homes have been set up to house the displaced.
According to UN experts, most internally displaced people, much like refugees, women and children, and many more lack food, water and basic necessities.
Oksana Zelinska, 40, who was the principal of a preschool in the southern city of Kherson, which is now occupied by Russian forces, fled to the western city of Uzhhorod in April with her two children, a colleague and the woman’s children. Slovakian border. Her husband is left behind in Kherson, and she wants to return, but she says she lives in the West for her children.
“When we got here, I needed to do something, it was tough and I didn’t want to sit around frustrated,” he said. “I wanted to be useful.”
She started volunteering in the community kitchen which she used when she first arrived, peeled the potatoes and made meals for dozens of people who join in for hot meals every day.
Helping the displaced return to their homes – or finding new ones – is one of Ukraine’s biggest challenges, whatever the outcome of the war. Some of their cities may not return to Ukrainian control. Recovering homes, water lines and other important infrastructure could be almost completely destroyed by the Russian army’s burnt soil strategy.