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More than 5 million refugees have left Ukraine since Russia launched its invasion two months ago, the United Nations’ refugee agency said on Wednesday, as it warned of the risks of trafficking and exploitation faced by vulnerable women and children fleeing the conflict.

Key Facts

Around 5 million refugees have fled Ukraine and 7.1 million have been displaced within the country since February 24, according to UN data.

That means more than a quarter of Ukraine’s pre-war population of 44 million people has either fled the country or been internally displaced since the war began.

Another 13 million people were estimated to be stranded in affected areas or unable to leave as of late March, according to the UN, and António Vitorino, leader of the agency’s migration arm, said Monday an update on this figure is expected later this week.

Women, children, the elderly and people with disabilities have been disproportionately affected, Vitorino said, with more than half of Ukraine’s children displaced.

Many are vulnerable to trafficking, “violence, exploitation, and abuse” by criminal networks taking advantage of the crisis, Vitorino warned, pointing to increasing reports of gender-based violence and a history of trafficking in the region and during other crises involving large-scale displacement.

Vitorino urged impacted countries to do more to identify and support unaccompanied children and develop networks with law enforcement agencies to tackle criminal networks and traffickers.

Big Number

30%. In cases of mass displacement, that’s the proportion of the population that can be expected to experience some form of mental health problem or negative psychological impact, Vitorino said. These psychosocial needs will “undoubtedly” increase as the war continues and intensifies, he said, and the UN is “scaling-up” efforts to address them in Ukraine and neighboring countries, including by training first responders and increasing the capacity of its established support hotlines.

What To Watch For

Where refugees fleeing Ukraine go. While monitoring the movement of those displaced by conflict is vital for effectively targeting support, precise figures can be hard to pin down. In Ukraine, this is complicated by the scale and speed of displacement, in addition to the lack of hard borders within Europe’s Schengen Area. UN data shows the vast majority of refugees have fled to nearby countries, primarily Poland (2.8 million), but also Romania (751,000), Hungary (465,000), Moldova (425,000), and Slovakia (340,000). Significant numbers have also fled to Russia (536,00) and its ally Belarus (24,000), though Ukraine has accused Russia of forcibly relocating thousands of civilians to its territory. These numbers do not account for those traveling on through other European countries and also count refugees crossing between Romania and Moldova twice, according to the UN. The numbers also don’t account for those choosing to return to Ukraine, a not-insignificant figure according to reports on the border. Citing the Polish border force, the Guardian reported a total of 117,129 people entering Ukraine from Poland between 4 and 10 April. As of late March, over 370,000 were estimated to have returned across the Polish border since Russia’s invasion began on February 24, according to Politico. While these figures do not distinguish between returning civilians and others entering Ukraine like aid workers, reports indicate increasing numbers of people heading back after having left. In his speech Monday, Vitorino said the UN migration agency’s displacement tool should have updated estimates on new displacements, secondary movements and the number of people returning to Ukraine later this week.

What We Don’t Know

How many people will be displaced. The number of people fleeing Ukraine has far exceeded initial UN forecasts of 4 million people. The agency has not yet produced new estimates to aid in planning and in late March, agency spokesperson Matthew Saltmarsh told Forbes the organization is working to produce new estimates.

Key Background

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has triggered one of the fastest-growing humanitarian crises in history and the largest mass-displacement in Europe since World War Two. Russian forces have been repeatedly accused of targeting civilians, civilian infrastructure and violating the laws of war as well as besieging several cities. Aid organizations, politicians and international groups warn of an increasingly dire humanitarian situation for civilians and the UN warns around six million inside Ukraine are in need of food and cash assistance. The invasion is likely to have a knock on effect on world hunger due to Russia and Ukraine’s prominent role as food and fertilizer exporters, the World Food Programme said, with 47 million more people possibly pushed into acute hunger as a result.

Further Reading

Stop matching lone female Ukraine refugees with single men, UK told (Guardian)

When a war zone seems safer: the Roma refugees heading home to Ukraine after being treated badly in Europe (Independent)

Risking the dangers of war, some Ukrainian refugees head home (Politico)

‘All I can do is pray’: the Ukrainian women going home despite the danger (Guardian)

Source: Forbes

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