Seven weeks since the Russian invasion, an estimated six million people need food and cash assistance, according to the UN World Food Programme (WFP), which has provided relief to previously inaccessible areas such as Bucha, Irpin, Hostomel and Borodianka. 

The development follows a renewed ceasefire call from Secretary-General António Guterres, whose spokesperson said on Monday that he was “deeply concerned by the continuing attacks on Ukrainian cities across the country…which are resulting in numerous civilian casualties and destruction in residential areas.” 

Mass exodus continues 

Women, children and disabled people have also continued to flee all parts of Ukraine, the UN refugee agency, UNHCR, said, adding that it was key for borders to remain open to those seeking shelter.

“The latest numbers we have are [that] about 4.9 million refugees are fleeing Ukraine since 24 February,” spokesperson Shabia Mantoo told journalists in Geneva.

“We are watching with concern to see what will happen, but it’s quite alarming that just in the space of a few weeks we are approaching five million refugees from Ukraine, which we’ve said right at the start, with the pace of these movements, this is the fastest-growing and one of the largest refugee crises we are seeing in in Europe since the Second World War and this is what it really continues to look like.” 

Relief effort undaunted 

As efforts continue to secure agreements for humanitarian access to all parts of Ukraine, the World Health Organization (WHO) explained that it was doing its utmost to pre-position aid and deliver lifesaving supplies and equipment to strategic areas. 

“WHO has now delivered 218 metric tonnes of emergency and medical supplies to Ukraine…132 metric tonnes have reached their intended destinations in the east and north of the country,” said the agency’s spokesperson, Bhanu Bhatnagar, speaking from Lviv in west Ukraine, which was shelled on Monday. 

He explained that diesel generators were to be dispatched on Tuesday from a Lviv warehouse to hospitals in Kharkiv, Luhansk and Donetsk oblasts in eastern Ukraine, where heavy fighting has disrupted the power supply.

Mariupol health facilities were also due to receive two generators and another was planned for Severodonetsk, where power supply is limited or non-existent.  

Lifesaving intervention 

Once delivered, the generators will facilitate surgery; trauma and emergency care; internal medicine; obstetrics, gynecology and pediatrics; and treat infectious diseases, Mr. Bhatnagar explained.

He pointed out that even a momentary power failure could have “serious consequences for patients,” for example those needing medical oxygen. 

“We will only move the generators to their final destinations when we can ensure the safety of our personnel and the precious cargo they are transporting,” the WHO official continued, noting that there were now only 10 oxygen plants across the country that supply hospitals and health facilities.  

Health under attack 

Attacks on health care in Ukraine have also continued to threaten the lives of patients and professionals, the WHO spokesperson said, with a total of 137 confirmed attacks since 24 February. 

Of those, Mr. Bhatnagar said, “we have confirmed thus far, 132 of them have impacted health facilities; 16 of them impacted transport like ambulance, 24 have impacted personnel, 12, patients, 27 of them have impacted supplies and two have impacted warehouses”.

He also confirmed that one attack could have multiple impacts on different aspects of health care in Ukraine. 

Mariupol survivors 

In the besieged city of Mariupol – where the Secretary-General’s spokesperson said that amid “unrelenting” Russian shelling, the UN chief was “greatly concerned by the continuing appalling humanitarian situation” – WFP reiterated the importance of securing safe access in and out of the city.   

About a month ago, an estimated 260,000 people were believed to be left inside Mariupol, excluding Ukrainian military personnel. But but now the estimates are somewhere between 100,000 and 150,000, said Jakob Kern, WFP Emergency Coordinator for Ukraine – highlighting the need for sustained humanitarian access. 

Mariupol…would probably need about two to three trucks a day, so…it’s not a question of going with 10 trucks once a month, that’s not going to, to cut it. So, these processes are important and as I said, it needs agreement from all sides, and so far, we haven’t managed to get that.” 

Nationwide, WFP has mobilized more than 60,000 metric tons of food, enough to support two million people for two months. Since 24 February, 1.7 million people in Ukraine have been reached, through in-kind food assistance to families in encircled and conflict-affected areas, and $3.6 million in cash-based transfers have been activated in areas where markets are functioning.  

In total, the UN agency has delivered 113 tonnes of food to vulnerable families in the encircled cities of Kharkiv, Sumy and Severodonetsk through four UN interagency humanitarian convoys, enough for 20,000 people for 10 days.  

Food supplies provided by WFP are delivered to Bucha, Ukraine.

© WFP/Marco Frattini

Food supplies provided by WFP are delivered to Bucha, Ukraine.

Farming repercussions 

Another of the UN agency’s major concerns was that 20 per cent of Ukraine’s planted areas would not be harvested in July, and that the spring planting area may be about one-third smaller than usual.  

Beyond the war, the main challenge for Ukraine’s farmers is managing to export their harvest via the country’s southern ports which are now blocked or under attack. If they fail to do that, there will be no room to store this season’s harvest. 

Outside Ukraine, rising food prices linked to the Russian invasion and other factors have forced WFP to spend $70 million more per month to buy the same amount of food as last year.