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Humanitarian Crisis Deepens in Ukraine

Ukrainian volunteers prepare food for displaced people outside Lviv railway station, in Lviv, western Ukraine, March 3, 2022.
Ukrainian volunteers prepare food for displaced people outside Lviv railway station, in Lviv, western Ukraine, March 3, 2022.

U.N. aid agencies are calling for unimpeded access to all areas of Ukraine in need of humanitarian assistance and protection. The call comes amid reported efforts to establish humanitarian corridors in Ukraine.

The U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, or OCHA, welcomes a reported agreement between Ukraine and Russia to facilitate safe passage for civilians out of conflict areas. Delegates from the opposing sides proposed the agreement Monday in Belarus.

However, OCHA spokesman Jens Laerke says U.N. officials have not yet received anything in writing from the two sides on the establishment of humanitarian corridors. He says people are terrified by the violence unfolding around them across Ukraine, and millions urgently need safe passage and life-saving aid.

“We look to both sides to ensure the passage is organized in a manner that allows for safety, dignity, and protection of those civilians. Humanitarian organizations stand ready to work with the parties to protect and care for the civilians, whether they choose to stay or to leave the concerned areas,” Laerke said.

The U.N. children’s fund says escalating violence over the past week has forced half-a-million children to flee their homes. UNICEF spokesman James Elder, who is in the western Ukrainian city of Lviv, some 60 kilometers from the Polish border, says the scale and speed of the forced displacement is unprecedented.

“And if the violence, the explosive munitions do not stop, many, many more children will be forced to flee their country in a very short space of time. And we fear many more will be killed. We must also remember those who cannot escape the bombardment currently rocking Ukraine. Tens of thousands of children are in child-care institutions; many of these are disabled,” Elder said.

U.N. refugee agency media chief Joung-ah Ghedini-Williams, who is in the Moldovan city of Palanca, describes the rate of the ongoing refugee exodus from Ukraine as without comparison.

“We have seen the numbers increase not only day on day, but hourly, and I think that …what we are seeing is the devastating toll that over a week of just unabated tragedy is having on people,” Ghedini-Williams said.

The latest UNHCR figures show more than 1.3 million Ukrainians have fled to Poland, Hungary, Moldova, Romania, and other European countries. The agency is preparing to assist up to 4 million Ukrainian refugees, making this the biggest refugee crisis this century.