Where Ukrainian Refugees Are Heading – and Why.

About 660,000 refugees have left Ukraine following Russia’s invasion on February 24, and another 1 million have been internally displaced, equaling about 4% of the total population, according to UNHCR. Data sourced from border control agencies have shown a little over 57% of Ukrainian residents have gone to Poland. The Polish cities of Rzeszow and […]

About 660,000 refugees have left Ukraine following Russia’s invasion on February 24, and another 1 million have been internally displaced, equaling about 4% of the total population, according to UNHCR.

Data sourced from border control agencies have shown a little over 57% of Ukrainian residents have gone to Poland. The Polish cities of Rzeszow and Lublin have seen the greatest influx, according to research conducted by Direct Relief’s Research and Analysis team, which has been focused on understanding where people are likely to go and which resources will be most needed by them once they arrive.

By looking at a combination of Facebook Data For Good’s Social Connectedness Index, which measures the strength of friendships and links it geographically, as well as phone-based mobility data from Meta, Schroeder and his team at Direct Relief, in collaboration with Harvard University on a platform called CrisisReady, have been able to better understand where refugees are likely to go. All participants in Meta’s initiative have opted-in to the program, which anonymizes the data.

“If you originated in Ukraine, where are you most likely to be connected, in terms of Facebook friends? Does that have a special pattern to it? It turns out, it really does,” said Andrew Schroeder, Direct Relief’s VP of Research and Analysis. “We can fill in things that you can’t find out by looking at the border patrol report,” he said.

Map showing population density change at the Ukraine-Poland border on February 25. (Direct Relief/CrisisReady)

Schroeder said that most of the earliest refugees had access to a car and the ability to leave, enabling them to enter the EU and receive free access to free healthcare. They were also more likely than later refugees to bypass official intake procedures and generally opted to stay with friends and family. Online social connections indicated that Poland and the Czech Republic had the strongest social ties to Ukrainians.

With a predicted number of up to 5 million refugees, according to the UN, Schroeder and his team are using social data to offer analysis related to where future refugees are likely to go, where sanitation services and food should be directed, and other critical issues likely in the near-term.

In Ukraine, about 1,700 people are hospitalized with Covid-19 as oxygen supplies have hit critically low levels —causing the WHO to issue a warning that supplies could run out as soon as Tuesday. Tuberculosis cases, while on a downward trend, still remain high in terms of both case count and mortality, according to the WHO, with over 30,000 cases reported last year.  

As with any disaster, people with chronic care conditions such as diabetes, hypertension, and heart disease are especially vulnerable as it can be more difficult to access needed medications. When left untreated, the risk of suffering from a stroke, heart, and asthma attack, or spiking blood pressure increases. In Ukraine, about 15,000 children have Type 1 diabetes, according to the Ukrainian Diabetes Federation, and the local insulin supply is expected to run low as the war continues.

Adding to preexisting conditions, refugees crowded into substandard conditions are at a higher risk of contracting norovirus, polio, tuberculosis, and Covid-19. Ukraine has been fighting a polio outbreak since October of last year.

Additionally, food security is fast becoming a major concern as Ukraine supplies 13% of global corn and 12% of global wheat which, when added with Russia’s crop output, comprises about one-fourth of the world’s supply of those staple crops. The World Food Programme (WFP) procures a full 50% of its wheat supplies from Ukraine and nations already facing food security challenges, such as Mozambique and Yemen typically purchase a large amount of their wheat and corn from Ukraine.

Map showing changes in population on the Ukraine-Poland border. (Direct Relief/CrisisReady)

Direct Relief and CrisisReady reports have so far been shared with a network that links together several major UN agencies and NGOs, including the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, the European Commission’s Joint Research Center on Demography, Migration, and Governance, Pacific Disaster Center, International Committee of the Red Cross,  International Federation of Red Cross and Nethope. 

 Direct Relief’s response to the crisis has included the commitment of $500,000 and the delivery of 360 Emergency Medical Backpacks requested by the Ukrainian Ministry of Health, including wound care supplies and tourniquets and other supplies needed to treat people in the field. Direct Relief has also shipped medical items for blood pressure support, intubation/ventilation, IV fluids, antibiotics and more to the Ukrainian Ministry of Health and local partners.

Since January 2021, Direct Relief has shipped more than $27 million in medical aid to Ukraine, including $5.4 million worth of medical aid that arrived in the country a week before the invasion, and which was designated for a Ukrainian NGO that serves hospitals, ambulance stations and medical centers.

Direct Relief is continuing to monitor the situation and will respond to incoming requests from the Ukrainian Ministry of Health and other partners.

Additional reporting was contributed by Dan Hovey, Gordon Willcock, and Paul Sherer.

This post was originally published on Direct Relief.


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