Russian invasion has displaced 14 million Ukrainians, UN says

The number of Ukrainians who have fled their homes since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine earlier this year has reached 14 million, according to the latest United Nations data.

Addressing the U.N. Security Council this week, Filippo Grandi, the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, described the mass exodus of refugees that began on Feb. 24, as “the fastest, largest displacement witnessed in decades.”

He warned that with “one of the world’s harshest winters” soon approaching, Ukrainians were about to face “extremely difficult circumstances,” and more aid was needed.

“Humanitarian organizations have dramatically scaled up their response, but much more must be done, starting with an end to this senseless war,” the U.N. refugee chief said. “ Unfortunately, we see the opposite, and the destruction caused by strikes at civilian infrastructure, which happens as we speak, is quickly making the humanitarian response look like a drop in the ocean of needs,” he added.

As of Nov. 1, 7,785,514 Ukrainian refugees had fled their country and were registered across Europe. Poland and Germany have received the most refugees — over a million each — followed by the Czech Republic, which has welcomed 455,731. Other countries that have received a significant number of Ukrainians include the United States, United Kingdom, France, Turkey, Italy and Spain, which have welcomed between 100,000 and 300,000 refugees each.

Neighboring countries such as Hungary, Romania, Slovakia and Moldova, all of which are part of the U.N. Regional Refugee Response Plan, along with Poland, have also welcomed tens of thousands of refugees.

During his speech, Grandi praised the European Union’s response to the crisis and said that “we have seen an open, well managed and above all shared refugee response that has proven wrong many of the statements frequently repeated by some politicians: that Europe is full; that relocation is impossible; that there is no public support for refugees.”

In the spring, the Biden administration announced a private sponsorship program to welcome as many as 100,000 Ukrainian refugees to the U.S. In just over four months after the program was launched, 50,832 Ukrainians had arrived in the U.S. through the initiative, CBS news reported. From March to September, U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers encountered more than 91,000 Ukrainians along the U.S.-Mexico border.

In addition to those who have left the war-torn country, more than 6.9 million people are estimated to be internally displaced in Ukraine, according to the U.N. refugee agency.

A woman boards an evacuation train with her daughter at the Pokrovsk Train Station in Ukraine
A woman boards an evacuation train with her daughter at the Pokrovsk Train Station in Ukraine. (Alex Chan Tsz Yuk/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)

An additional 2.8 million refugees have been recorded crossing the border into Russia. In a recent analysis of the Ukrainian refugee crisis, Erol Yayboke said that some of these Ukrainian refugees “report voluntarily moving through Russia as a means of eventually reaching the European Union.” Yayboke is director and senior fellow for the Project on Fragility and Mobility at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington, D.C., think tank. However, he noted that there have been “troubling reports of forcible transfers of Ukrainians to Russia or Russian-occupied regions as Moscow tries to rid eastern Ukraine of people sympathetic to Kyiv.”

These allegations were brought up at a U.N. Security Council meeting in September by Linda Thomas-Greenfield, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. Greenfield said that a variety of sources, including the Russian government, had indicated that Russian authorities had interrogated, detained and forcibly deported an estimated 900,000 to 1.6 million Ukrainians. Russia, however, denied these allegations.

A report published by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) last week offered some insights into the profiles, needs and intentions of some of the Ukrainian refugees who are in Europe. With the help of its partners in Belarus, Bulgaria, Hungary and other European countries, the UNHCR conducted more than 34,000 interviews between May and September 2022 at various crossing points, transport hubs, reception and transit centers, as well as assistance points in major cities, the agency said.

According to the report, the majority of Ukrainian refugees are women who have traveled with their children or elderly parents. This is in part because men ages 18 to 60 who are eligible to serve in the military have been banned from leaving the country and asked to join in the fight.

The refugees interviewed held high levels of education with 46% having a university degree or higher degrees, and 29% have vocational training. They also had diverse professional experiences, particularly in services and trade-related sectors.

In terms of accommodations, the majority of respondents, 56%, were staying in hosted or rented accommodations, while 29% were still staying in collective sites, planned sites and reception or transit centers. The other 12% had relatives in the host countries.

The top three urgent needs of the refugees were cash, employment and accommodation, and they were most interested in receiving information on financial aid services and work opportunities, followed by medical care and legal status.

Finally, according to the report, the majority of respondents voiced a desire to stay in the host country in the near future for safety reasons.

Given “the likely protracted nature of the military situation,” Grandi said his agency was preparing for further population movements both inside and outside Ukraine. He also brought attention to other emergencies happening across the globe.

“It is not only Ukraine where conflict has driven people from their homes. In the past 12 months alone, UNHCR has responded to 37 emergencies around the world. Thirty-seven. Yet the other crises are failing to capture the same international attention, outrage, resources, action,” he said.