Russian invasion of Ukraine: Refugee numbers could rise to 4 million by July, says UNHCR 

A total of 160 000 people were internally displaced in Ukraine as of March 3, 2022.

Published: 06th March 2022 07:53 PM  |   Last Updated: 06th March 2022 07:56 PM   |  A+A-

Marina Yatsko and her boyfriend Fedor comfort each other after her 18-month-old son Kirill was killed by shelling in a hospital in Mariupol, Ukraine, Friday, March 4, 2022. (AP Photo)

By Online Desk

GENEVA: A total of 160 000 people were internally displaced in Ukraine as of March 3, 2022, following the Russian invasion of the country. While 18 million people were affected by the war the refugee figures stood at 1 209 976, according to a situation report released by WHO (World Health Organisation) on Emergency in Ukraine.

The escalation of military operations in Ukraine on February 24, 2022, triggered a humanitarian emergency affecting Ukraine and surrounding countries. One week after the escalation, the overall situation continues to deteriorate across Ukraine. To date, over 18 million individuals have been affected by the conflict, over 1 million refugees have arrived in neighboring countries, with UNHCR (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees) estimating that this could rise to 4 million by July 2022.

The WHO said that the Ministry of Health (MoH) and the National Health System of Ukraine (NHSU) continue to operate, but humanitarian access across borders is still being negotiated as of March 4, 2022.

According to the situation report, there are significant access barriers due to active hostilities, martial law (curfew), medicine (availability, access to pharmacies, cost), health care facilities (distance, damage to roads, transportation, lack of mass transport, fuel shortages, restricted movement through military checkpoints, safety concerns in facilities, lack of specialized beds and equipment, few disability accommodations, limited telemedicine, health workforce shortages). Many isolated settlements do not have pharmacies or medical centres. These barriers to access are further compounded by a health system already strained by the COVID-19 pandemic, suffering from a lack of maintenance and aging medical equipment, shortages of medicines and medical supplies, understaffing, and disruptions to management due to recent health reforms and decentralization.

Health facilities are focused on treating trauma patients, and there are already dire warnings concerning the availability of beds for both trauma and other conditions. At least three major oxygen plants in Ukraine have closed, and supplies are dangerously low, hampering the treatment of a number of medical conditions, including COVID-19. As of 3 March, based on the shifting context, more than 200 health facilities have found themselves along conflict lines or in changed areas of control.

There are reports, both verified and under investigation, of health facilities being damaged or destroyed, WHO said. 

The Ministry of Health (MoH) suspended all scheduled hospitalization and elective procedures to allow health care facilities to respond to emergency medical care. International trauma referrals are being set up in the meantime, including a Regional "Humanitarian Hub" in Poland. COVID-19 call centers are being repurposed to manage conflict-related health emergencies, including trauma care and access to health services. 

There will likely be staff shortages at health facilities for security reasons and displacement of some staff, either internally or to neighbouring countries. Accessibility of health services is likely to be severely disrupted within areas of active conflict. The WHO is coordinating the health response in support of the Ministry of Health in Ukraine and surrounding countries.


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