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World Food Programme set to assist people affected by conflict in Ukraine

WFP gears up as over a million people have crossed into neighbouring countries such as Poland
, WFP Staff
Ukrainian family at the Medyka border crossing for Poland
A Ukrainian family reach the Polish border town of Medyka on Saturday (26 February). Photo: Dominika Zarzycka/NurPhoto via AFP 

Figures in this piece were last updated on 3 March 2022

The World Food Programme (WFP) is launching an emergency operation to provide food assistance for people fleeing the conflict inside Ukraine and in neighbouring countries, following an official request from the country’s Government. 

“We are deeply concerned for the impact of hostilities on the lives and livelihoods of civilians,” said Margot van der Velden, WFP’s Director of Emergencies. “As the situation evolves, there is a need to ensure that affected communities have continued access to any humanitarian support they may require and that the safety of humanitarian staff on the ground is guaranteed.”

A Ukrainian woman at the Medyka crossing into Poland
A Ukrainian woman crossing into Poland at Medyka on 26 February. Photo: Dominika Zarzycka/NurPhoto via AFP

The food assistance operation is expected to cover refugees in neighboring countries, guided by the humanitarian principles of neutrality, impartiality, humanity and independence.

While it is difficult to estimate the humanitarian consequences of this developing war, UNHCR – the UN Refugee Agency – estimates that more than a million Ukrainians have already fled the country and sought refuge in neighbouring countries since the beginning of the conflict. Miles-long traffic jams are being seen towards Ukraine’s neighbours to the west. 

People crossing into Poland from Ukraine
With temperatures as low as -2°C at night, families fleeing conflict are desperate, cold, afraid and hungry. Photo: Dominika Zarzycka/NurPhoto via AFP

The majority of the people fleeing to the Polish border are women and children, as men are not allowed to leave the country. The waiting time to cross the 14 km backlog into Poland can be up to 40 hours, with temperatures as low as -2°C at night. Families are desperate, cold, afraid and hungry.

Food and drinking water shortages are reported in pockets of the capital Kyiv and in Kharkiv, the two cities currently bearing the brunt of the ongoing conflict.

Orlovske, Donetsk Region in 2016
Between 2014 and 2018 WFP supported conflict-affected communities in Ukraine (in the photo: Orlovske, Donetsk Region, 2016). Photo: WFP/Deborah Nguyen

WFP staff in the capital say that food supplies are running low, with grocery store shelves almost empty. Food shortages will be another obstacle facing residents of Kyiv, many of whom have taken shelter in metro stations.

WFP teams are on the ground in the city and in a number of the neighbouring countries leading the emergency telecoms and logistics push on behalf of the UN.

The Black Sea basin is one of the world’s most important areas for grain and agricultural production, and the food security impact of the conflict will likely be felt beyond Ukraine’s borders. 

A WFP distribution in Mariupol in 2016
A WFP distribution in Mariupol in 2016. Photo: WFP/Deborah Nguyen

In a year of unprecedented humanitarian needs, this will also affect WFP’s efforts to supply food to some of its biggest emergencies.

“We get 50 percent of our grains out of the Ukraine-Russia area, it’s going have a dramatic impact on food costs, shipping costs, oil and fuel,” said WFP Executive Director David Beasley in a social media video posted from Yemen. “This is catastrophe on top of catastrophe.”

A WFP distribution in Orlovske in the Donetsk region in 2016
A WFP distribution in Orlovske in the Donetsk region in 2016. Photo: WFP/Deborah Nguyen

Between 2014 and 2018, WFP ran an operation in the east of the country, reaching more than 1 million people through cash, food vouchers or locally purchased food rations, operating in both Government- and non-Government-controlled areas.

The current crisis comes as WFP warns 811 million people go to bed hungry every night around the world, with the number of those facing acute food insecurity having jumped from 135 million to 276 million since 2019 – a consequence of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

A total of 44 million people in 38 countries are teetering on the edge of famine – in addition to working to ensure that the needs of people in, and fleeing from, Ukraine are met, WFP is working around the clock to make sure critical supplies to its operations around the world suffer minimal interruption. 

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