While much has been written about the high numbers of people fleeing from the onslaught from Russian military sources in Ukraine, not much has been heard about those returning, but more than 870,000 people who fled abroad since the Russian invasion on 24 February have now returned to Ukraine, UN humanitarians said in their latest emergency update. This has led to concerns about deteriorating food security inside the country.
Citing the State Border Guard Service, UN aid coordination office, OCHA, said that 30,000 people are crossing back into Ukraine every day.
The recent returnees reportedly include women with children and older persons, compared to mostly men at the beginning of the escalation.
Relief delivery challenge
“This significant figure suggests that migration back to Ukraine might continue increasing, potentially creating new challenges for the humanitarian response as people will need support to reintegrate into their communities or find suitable host communities if returning to their homes is no longer viable,” OCHA said in a statement.
Of the 12 million people in need in Ukraine, humanitarians have reached 2.1 million of them, and the UN’s $1.1 billion flash appeal for Ukraine is now 64 per cent funded.
War rages in east and south
Fighting is concentrated in the eastern and southern oblasts – or regions – of Ukraine, causing damage and civilian casualties and driving humanitarian needs. OCHA also reported rockets strikes in central and northern Ukraine, before citing Ukraine’s State Emergency Service (SESU), which said that 300,000 km2 – or almost half of Ukraine – requires demining.
Relief workers killed
In its latest emergency update, OCHA also reported that two humanitarian workers and five of their relatives have been killed in eastern Dontesk oblast.
They were sheltering at the Caritas Mariupol office when the building was reportedly hit by rounds fired from a tank, probably on 15 March, although the information only became available recently, as the city had been cut off for weeks.
“Both aid workers dedicated their lives to the service of others through their work for Caritas. On behalf of the United Nations and the humanitarian community, I send our heartfelt condolences to their families and colleagues, and to those of the other civilians who were killed.
“This deeply tragic and unacceptable event is just one example of this war’s horrific consequences for civilians, including aid workers“, the UN relief chief added.
“Tens of thousands of civilians in Mariupol — which has been an epicentre of horror since the conflict began — and in other locations around Ukraine have now endured 50 days of violence and shelling. More than 1,932 civilians have died since 24 February, including more than 150 children. This must stop.”
Meanwhile, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) warned that there are “immediate food insecurity issues” in nearly three in 10 oblasts – with a further 11 per cent of oblasts (that are partially exposed to fighting) expecting shortages within two months.
Rural and isolated communities have been worst-hit by food insecurity, FAO said, as it announced support for farmers to plant their fields, save their livestock and produce food.
Urgent cash support is also planned for the most vulnerable families, including those headed by women, the elderly and those with disabilities.
Meanwhile, OCHA also noted that Russia reported that more than 783,000 people – including nearly 150,000 children – have crossed into Russia from Ukraine since 24 February.
Latest data from the UN refugee agency, UNHCR, indicates that more than 4.7 million people have fled Ukraine since the war began. Another seven million are internally displaced.
UNAIDS warns of ‘wave of deaths’
The war in Ukraine has resulted in the destruction and disruption of health services and logistical supply chains that hundreds of thousands of people living with and affected by HIV, depend on for survival, the UN agency committed to ending AIDS said in a press release on Wednesday.
Some 250,000 Ukrainians are living with HIV, and lack of access to antiretroviral therapy and prevention services would mean a wave of deaths and risks a resurgence of Ukraine’s AIDS pandemic, said UNAIDS.
“The community-led networks which are vital to maintaining life-saving services need an urgent upscaling of international support.”
More than 40 health facilities that offered HIV treatment, prevention and care services before the war, are now closed and there are various levels of service disruption at other sites.
The World Health Organization (WHO) has this week verified more than 100 attacks on health facilities in Ukraine, while supply routes within the country have been thrown into disarray.
An initial delivery of more than 18 million doses of life-saving antiretroviral medicine procured by the United States President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), that arrived in Lviv last week, is now being distributed in partnership with the Ukrainian health ministry, and 100% Life, the largest organization of people living with HIV in Ukraine.
“If they can be delivered to those in need, the medicines are sufficient to cover a six-month supply for all people living with HIV on first-line treatment”, said UNAIDS.
The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, is also providing emergency funding to ensure the continuity of life-saving HIV and tuberculosis services.
Civil society organizations are mounting “a heroic effort”, said UNAIDS, to deliver vital medical supplies and HIV services to people living with and affected by HIV, including to vulnerable populations.
“They are reaching people in extraordinary challenging locations, despite the huge obstacles. But the civil society organizations on which this delivery and care system depends need further international support to be able to continue their work.”