Since the onset of the war in Ukraine on February 24, 2022, more than 5 million Ukrainians have fled to neighboring countries in search of sanctuary, thus sparking the fastest-growing refugee crisis in Ukraine since World War II. The U.N. anticipates this number will continue to rise, predicting that up to 10 million Ukrainians could be internally and externally displaced.
The crisis in Ukraine begs the questions: where are these refugees seeking asylum and what are the active efforts to protect the children forced to flee their homes? According to the U.N., two-thirds of children have been displaced from their homes. Women, alongside children, represent the majority of those escaping Ukraine into countries such as Poland and Romania. Other countries close to Ukraine, such as Hungary and Slovakia, have welcomed almost 1.5 million Ukrainian refugees, alongside the flood of refugees into Poland and Romania represents unprecedented statistics. As the number of children forced to flee their homes increases, so does the aid that flows in from the private sector.
Humanitarian aid from the private sector is the driving force in assistance for refugees. The influx of this aid has been considered a game-changer and has never been seen before. Totaling more than $1.4 billion in cash, the private sector has supported Ukrainians since the start of the crisis, through humanitarian aid contributions, in addition to the unfamiliar stance of halting business operations in Russia.
There are distinct needs for food, shelter, water, sanitation services, and emergency cash to help refugees flee Ukraine. As NGOs and non-profits contribute their assistance, private corporation businesses continue to actively support and fundraise for their efforts. Companies like Clorox, Apple, Bank of America, FedEx, and others have partnered with organizations in the likeness of the Red Cross and started to send donations upwards of $1 million in humanitarian aid specifically to children.
Children, the ones who truly face the brunt of the crisis, continue to receive aid from non-profits and other NGOs. Save the Children and the International Rescue Committee (IRC) are particularly focused on initiatives to protect child refugees. Both of these organizations provide not only life-saving support through the means of food, hygiene products, clothes, and diapers but also much-needed and urgent mental health support. Many fail to see that although the children may be away from the crises in their country, they face trauma from the conflict and the separation of their families. Save the Children provides psychological support and created child-friendly spaces throughout Poland to help assist children recovering from traumatic experiences. In these spaces, children can play, learn, and recover. Similarly, the IRC is partnering with organizations across nine shelters in Poland to establish safe healing and learning spaces, equipped with a caring and safe environment throughout the day. The IRC is also assisting children with integration in Polish classrooms through cultural assistance. Plan International shares a similar focus on refugee children by creating initiatives assisting them in emergency education and their return back to school. Donations are used to provide backpacks filled with school supplies, learning materials for educators, and tablets for refugee children to use to learn online in shelters. It is urgent to continue to support the needs of Ukrainian children during this crisis, as they too are the developing minds of the next generation.
Now more than ever, we must offer our solidarity with the people of Ukraine and remember the words of Senator McCain: “I send the message from the American people – we are with you, your fight is our fight, and we will win together.”
Senator John McCain never shied away from voicing his support for Ukrainians dating back to 2014. In response to the Russian takeover of Crimea, Senator McCain offered his unity with the Ukrainian people stating, “We are all Ukrainians.”
In the spirit of Senator McCain’s legacy and his long-time support of Ukraine, the McCain Institute held an event with World Central Kitchen (WCK), at the U.S. Capital alongside Foreign Relations Committee Ranking Member Senator Jim Risch and a bipartisan group of senators on June 23. The event focused on grassroots democracy defense efforts and human rights protection in Ukraine and highlighted the work of the McCain Institute’s McCain Global Leaders program and WCK. WCK refugee relief operations to serve millions of fresh meals to Ukrainian refugees who are fleeing their homes, as well as those still in the country, has over 3,000 distribution sites including those in Kyiv and Kramatorsk. WCK created resilient food systems with local solutions to benefit refugees surrounding the distribution sites. The McCain Institute’s McCain Global Leaders program itself includes several Global Leaders who are on the frontlines assisting in grassroots efforts to support the ongoing crisis. Amongst them is Tomas Martinaitis from Lithuania who has served as one of the youngest deputy mayors in his country and works on efforts to welcome and aid Ukrainian Refugees internally, including providing safe transportation to refugees from Poland to Lithuanian safe-havens.
Jointly, McCain Global Leaders on the Poland leg of their Changemaker Tour volunteered directly at WCK’s Przemsyl relief site by preparing and serving meals to refugees.
While the growing support from non-profits and NGOs globally is something to be praised, the U.S. and governments alike must do more to actively assist in the refugee crisis. As Senator McCain stated, “Nothing in life is more liberating than fighting for a cause larger than yourself.”
The humanitarian crisis in Ukraine is larger than its citizens and affects more than those in Ukraine. The conjunction of public and private sector aid is needed to continue the fight for the rights of Ukrainians. The United States must do more as a global leader to welcome Ukrainian children and all those seeking asylum from where they call home as conflict continues to arise. In unity, we all must continue to fight for a cause larger than ourselves.