Ukraine crisis: live updates from the Ukraine border

16 March 2022

ActionAid staff, partners and volunteers report live from border crossing towns as people flee Ukraine. Learn more about the DEC Ukraine Humanitarian Appeal and what ActionAid and partners are doing.

Displaced women and children arrive at Hrebenne, a crossing point on the Polish side of the Ukraine-Poland border where ActionAid and partner PAH are working

Displaced women and children arrive at Hrebenne, a crossing point on the Polish side of the Ukraine-Poland border where ActionAid and partner PAH are working. Photo: Simona Supino/ActionAid

Jara Henar, Migration and Asylum expert, ActionAid Hellas

2nd April 2022

"We are in Palanca, near the border between Moldova and Ukraine, an hour away from Odessa, which has been bombed during the last days.

"We are starting our intervention here and our priority is to ensure that women new rights are protected."

Niki Ignatiou, Humanitarian Advisor

24th March 2022

"We're now one month into the war. We've seen and spoken to [numerous] people from Ukraine who have seen much destruction and disruption in their country and in their lives.

"And we know that there have been over 3 million people, mostly women and children, who have left their country as refugees. But we also know similarly that a large amount of people are currently displaced inside Ukraine.   

"In the initial week of the invasion, there was around 140,000 people crossing into Poland per day. This dropped to about 80,000 in the following week, and then just last week, that figure had reached around 35,000 crossing into Poland. However, while the number in the border crossings is slowing down, this influx of refugees (over 2 million people) has intensified pressure on Polish cities.

"Often people don't want to go too far, as there still have hope that they will be able to return [home].

Within the second week of war, it was estimated that the population of Warsaw increased to 15%, which in itself is an incredibly big figure in such a short period of time. And now we're hearing that this has reached an increase of almost 30%.

"That's an unprecedented number of people staying in big cities at a short period of time who are now in need of accommodation.

"Walking around the Warsaw train station, I saw hundreds of people scattered around; sometimes making a bed on the floor to find refuge for the night. Others are staying at the reception centres of hostels or hotels temporarily.

"Others are with friends' families or are volunteers eager to help and the biggest question from them is what will happen next month; what will the future hold. For some that uncertainty is daunting."

Niki Ignatiou, Humanitarian Advisor

22nd March 2022

"This is Nikki with the ActionAid team here in Poland. We are in Warsaw at the moment, speaking to a range of fantastic national and grassroots organisations that are based here. They are spreading the word to support those fleeing the war.

"At ActionAid we know from years of experience that working with local partners means that local knowledge of services [is readily available] and skilled individuals are already on the ground.

"And we know that national organisations, specifically woman-led women's rights organisations, bring vital skills and resources when crisis hits. They're often the first responders and they're also best placed to know the needs of the communities.

"How to signpost specific and special services, for example, in order to ensure the needs and safety of those we work with are at the heart of our humanitarian approach.  

"We spoke to an organisation today that focuses on the support they're providing to non-Ukrainians. [We discussed] the reports that have been raised that people of colour and those from ethnic minority backgrounds have been refused access to aid and that they've had a much more difficult time crossing the border to safety. There are reports of mothers being forced to wait longer and others who have been told to return to the back of the queues and that's absolutely appalling.  

"These reports and incidences resonate with the experience of a Roma family we met at the border crossing of Hrebenne. They told us they felt discriminated against based on their nationality and were travelling for days hoping to find refuge, either at a big open stadium or small shelters. Sometimes they were told to leave.  

"This range of reports is troubling. All those who flee a conflict situation despite the background have the same right to safe passage."

Refugees at the Zosin crossing point, Poland.

Refugees at the Zosin crossing point, Poland.

Simona Supino/ActionAid

Arianne Martín, Women's Protection & Leadership Advisor, ActionAid Romania

20th March 2022

"Women and children crossing the border from Ukraine into other European countries are at a very vulnerable situation because they are scared, they might not have any contacts, maybe not even money.

"So this places them in a very, very vulnerable situation – so; vulnerable to the risk of trafficking, exploitation and abuse, like gender-based violence.

"This crisis cannot be tackled on an individual basis. As we know, Ukrainian refugees are having to cross many different countries towards their final destination. So in order to guarantee their protection we need a holistic solution.  

"For example we have a case of Lucia, a Ukrainian woman who had to travel across five different countries until she arrived to her final destination in Germany - and not without several risks throughout the journey."

Loakeim Vravras, Emergency Coordinator, ActionAid Romania

17th March 2022

"I am currently at the crossing point of Siret, the main entry point for Ukrainians to enter Romania.

"The response you are witnessing throughout the country by Romanian citizens, mainly youth and women is amazing. Women are cooking, people opening their homes to host Ukrainian refugees, and the most impressive part, youth, students are leaving their studies behind in order to be able to provide different types of orientation services to Ukrainians throughout the country.

"More than 450,000 people have entered Romania seeking refuge from Ukraine. 90% of them are women and stay in the country only for one or two days, and they are seeking transportation to other European countries. We really need to address their needs. The response has to be regional and not country-based.

"Every day thousands of people across the border from Ukraine Moldova, to Romania; women and children travelling alone are trying to figure out what the next chapter in their lives will be.

In this fragile situation there are people trying to take advantage of vulnerabilities - only in Siret, there have been 15 cases of people reporting attempted trafficking.

"Women and children’s protection has to be prioritised in situations of transit like the ones we are experiencing."

A sports centre being used as a reception centre near the Zosin border crossing point, Poland

A sports centre being used as a reception centre near the Zosin border crossing point, Poland .

Simona Supino/ActionAid

Joanna, volunteer for ActionAid's partner organisation Poland Humanitarian Action

16th March 2022

"My name is Joanna and I do whatever is needed. I’m a volunteer. I took time off work and came to Poland just to help. I am Polish by birth but have been living in Ireland for the past 14 years.

"The people crossing are mainly women and children. And for me, the first thing that is absolutely shocking is how little luggage they have. Three days ago, I was driving a woman with a grown-up daughter and a tiny little boy aged four and a half, and all they had was two school size backpacks. That’s all they had with them.

"My impression [of the situation] is that people don’t want to leave. They don’t want to leave family; their husbands behind but at some point, they are reaching this decision.

Most of them have children so as a mother, I know, I would do anything to protect my child, so I think that’s why they are making this decision.

"The story of that lady I drove to catch a train was really sad – but sad is not enough [not the right word]. It’s just that I understand that mother.

"She was sitting quietly in the back [of the car] and the only thing she said to me was: ‘we lost our home.’ [She knew this] because they found out from neighbours who stayed behind.

"When the Russians came, they stole whatever they could, and what they couldn’t steal, they destroyed."

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ActionAid staff at the Dorohusk crossing point, Poland

ActionAid staff at the Dorohusk crossing point, Poland .

Simona Supino/ActionAid

Niki Ignatiou, Humanitarian Advisor

16th March 2022

Today we visited a registration centre in Chelm, which is located about an hour away from two border crossings, that of, Dorohusk, which we visited yesterday, and Zosin which we visited today.

“The registration centre is set up to coordinate travel for those who have crossed [the border] and may not have family and friends they can stay with. Or those who would love to stay and rest of a night or two, until they plan their next steps.

“There was an initial welcoming point [for people to] register their details and then at the back there was a large, open space with rows of about 600 camp beds, which were available for people to stay.

We spoke to one of the co-ordinators who mentioned that on average they get about 3,000 people registering on a daily basis, most of whom cross through and come to them in the early hours of the night at around 1am, 2am, 3am.

“There were some volunteers saying that they have had to work 20 hour shifts sometimes, when it gets busy throughout the night. Some of the options that those going to registration have - other than staying there and resting - is moving forward into Poland or to other European countries, such as Italy or Germany.

“At night-time, the temperature just drops, drastically, I’d say, when the sun sets. [So] a hot drink is really just such a wanted welcome for them, especially when the temperature’s dropped to what it is, like minus three or four degrees, at that time.

“That’s something that we can clearly see, and our partners are working on tirelessly."

Displaced women and children arriving at Hrebenne, a crossing point on the Polish side of the Ukraine-Poland border where ActionAid and partner Polish Humanitarian Action are working

Displaced women and children arrive at Hrebenne, a crossing point on the Polish side of the Ukraine-Poland border where ActionAid and partner PAH are working.

Simona Supino/ActionAid

Mike Noyes, Head of Humanitarian Response

16th March 2022

Most of the families crossing the border from Ukraine are just a mother and her young children, but grandmother is often part of the group too. In many cases, the family dog or cat is there too.

Sometimes they come across the border on foot in small groups, one or two families at at time, carrying bags or pulling suitcases. At other times it's a large group come to join a bus waiting to take them to a reception centre.

They're tired and anxious, fearful for loved ones left behind and for their own uncertain future.

There's a small reception area on the Polish side: a few tents, hot food and drink, toilets and a first aid post. One of the tents belongs to ActionAid's national partner, Polish Humanitarian Action. Here, mothers can take a break to rest, maybe have a drink and something to eat.

There are volunteers who can help them find transport or keep the children entertained while they make phone calls or just warm up. The heated tent is so welcome in the freezing temperatures here. It dropped to -11 degrees last night.

We're here to make plans with Polish Humanitarian Action (PAH) for support to women fleeing the conflict in Ukraine in the months ahead, but also to see what more is needed now.

A bigger tent, maybe two, would be great as well as some trained staff to support the volunteers. Blankets to keep people warm too.

Thanks to the generosity of ActionAid supporters, we're aiming to support thousands of women in the next few uncertain months for them in Poland.

This morning we heard news of bombing in a new location, less than two hundred kilometres from here. Our colleagues at PAH expect this will lead to a surge in numbers at this crossing in the days ahead. The help here will be needed for some time.

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Families arriving at the first aid tent hosted by ActionAid's national partner, Polish Humanitarian Action

Families arriving at the first aid tent hosted by ActionAid's national partner, Polish Humanitarian Action .

Simona Supino/ActionAid

Niki Ignatiou, Humanitarian Advisor

15th March 2022

"Today I'm part of an all-woman team and we have driven up to the most northern border crossing between Ukraine and Poland, called Dorohusk. 

"What we know at that this stage is there are approximately 1.8 million refugees that have crossed over to Poland.

And while a week ago, we were seeing figures of 4-5,000 people crossing daily, volunteers here have told us that it's probably down to about 1,000 people crossing the border a day now, either because of the most recent attacks in Ukraine, which have blocked some roads. But also because of the expectation that, as we often see, in these situations, people are coming through in waves.

"We spoke to a woman today. She had travelled for three days from Chernihiv with her 11-year-old daughter. And they had to urgently flee. She told us that the area she lived in was under attack. Specifically, I think she had mentioned a sports stadium close to her house that was bombed and it actually shook the house she was living in.

"She recalled that they obviously were incredibly terrified, as would be the case and they had to hide for 15 days in the basement. They were not expecting the attacks to be so sudden and with the continuation of bombs she mentioned feeling stuck, mentioned that there wasn't a humanitarian corridor - a way for her to escape.

"She reflected on her journey over the three days to cross into Poland. And that wasn't easy either.

"She mentioned travelling under fire at times and how her husband who supported her to cross over the border, had to stay behind. She wasn't sure when she'll be able to be reunited with him again, or ultimately whether she will have the option to go back and the state of what she'll find if she does.

"She spoke a lot about the destruction she saw around her - not knowing whether her house would be standing - when she was and if she was to return.

"Speaking on her future plans, she was relieved to be to be able to be in Poland and had plans to stay with close friends who were picking her up. She was interested to find a job as quickly as possible in order to provide for her family.

There were a few times I had to compose myself and not cry. You know these women are holding the burden of the invasion on their shoulders, not only through what they've endured, but their resilience to continue forward.

"And it's incredible. It's absolutely devastating, but their resilience is amazing to witness and as ActionAid we're taking steps to ensure the safety and dignity of women and girls from here onwards."

Joanna Piotrowska, President of the ActionAid partner organisation Feminoteka Foundation

14th March 2022

"We are one of the few organisations here that focus on supporting women and girls who are at risk of gender-based violence or who are survivors.

"We are working with partners on the border, sharing information with refugees about how to stay safe.

We initiated a letter to the Police and Ministery of External Affairs to ensure the safety of refugees and a helpline in different languages with a free emergency number where women and girls can report violence of all kinds.

The scale of this crisis is huge. We are in shock. It is total chaos. More than 1.7 million refugees have crossed the border from Ukraine and more arriving every day. The majority are women and children and there is increased risk of exploitation and sexual violence towards women and girls."

Donate to the DEC Ukraine Humanitarian Appeal

Over three million people have fled from Ukraine to Poland, Romania, Hungary, Slovakia and Moldova, and more people are still arriving. Hungry, exhausted, and traumatised, people are in urgent need of food, water, and shelter.

With your help, ActionAid and other DEC charities can scale up our response and help families affected by this crisis.

We are working to meet people’s immediate needs including food, water, medical assistance, protection, and trauma care.

  • £50 could provide blankets for four families, to keep them warm.

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