Ukraine: “If the war continues, nothing will be left”

“If the war continues, nothing will be left. It is a bloody war, a monstrous war,” says Kotove (45). She fled Ukraine to Poland with her daughter (12). In the freezing night at the border, they try to keep warm with a blanket (photo). “My daughter is just crying,” Kotove says. They fled while bombs were falling. The grandmother had to stay behind in Ukraine. Russian tanks are advancing on their town. The population is trapped. 

“Many have to deal with terrible war experiences”, says Andrea Barschdorf-Hager, executive director of CARE Austria. “Psychosocial help is very important. People need someone they can talk to. We are in a war situation. We need to make the refugees feel welcome and let them know they have a safe place.”

Families are desperately trying to escape to neighboring countries. Due to the fact that men between the ages of 18 and 60 are forced to stay in Ukraine, many women with children are on their own. The border crossings are overcrowded. Mothers often have to wait up to two days in the freezing cold with babies and small children. Some sleep in cars, some have to wait outside in the cold without protection at the border. 

Christina (4) and her mother Maria made it (photo). They are safe in Poland. “What we're going to do now, I don't know yet,” Maria says. Like many refugees, she is pretty shook up by the events of the last few days. “The war is everywhere,” she says. 

CARE Austria is providing emergency aid through its partner organization People in Need in Ukraine. The first aid deliveries have already arrived. Refugees are also being cared for at the borders to neighboring countries such as Poland, Slovakia, or Romania. They arrive freezing and hungry. Mothers and children are exhausted. 

CARE's partner organization is also working on the Slovak-Ukrainian border with a team of emergency workers. They have set up heated tents where the exhausted mothers and children can warm up and rest. Upon arrival, they are given tea and a hot meal. There are also sanitation facilities there, such as portable toilets. In addition, trained teams are provided for crisis intervention and psychosocial assistance. 

“Most refugees have someone in neighboring countries who will take them in. They are on their way to friends, family or acquaintances,” says Marek Štys, head of humanitarian aid at People in Need. “But that can change abruptly if the conflict escalates further. If a large number of refugees arrive without contacts and seek protection, the whole situation could become very challenging.” 

Women and girls are particularly at risk in an active conflict situation like this and during widescale displacement, when it comes to increased risk of gender-based violence, exploitation, discrimination, and poor access to vital health services. For example, in the existing conflict-affected areas pregnant and breastfeeding women already lack access to sexual and reproductive health services, such as prenatal and postnatal care or safe childbirth options.