The Ukraine crisis – the humanitarian response (updated at 4pm on 21 March 2022)

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On 24 February 2022, Russian forces launched an invasion of Ukraine.  Information on the background to the conflict can be found in a previous SPICe blog

The Russian invasion has led to millions of Ukrainians fleeing their own homes in search of safety.  The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees has declared Ukraine a Level 3 emergency which is the highest level it has.  By 16 March, the UNHCR estimated that over three million people had left Ukraine for neighbouring countries with that number likely to continue to rise.  In addition, more than 2.9 million people in Ukraine have been identified as needing assistance. 

SPICe has also published a blog on Welcoming Ukrainians to the United Kingdom

More than half of the people fleeing Ukraine have gone to Poland, others have sought safety in other nearby countries such as Hungary, Moldova, Romania and Slovakia.  This blog sets out the response, both internationally and domestically to providing humanitarian support to refugees.

The response from international organisations

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has warned of rising needs in Ukraine and neighbouring countries and called for a cessation of hostilities.  According to the UNHCR:

“In addition to those who have had to flee, around 13 million people have been affected in the areas hardest hit by the war within Ukraine and are in need of humanitarian and protection assistance.

Many people remain trapped in areas of escalating conflict and, with essential services disrupted, are unable to meet their basic needs including food, water and medicines.

Humanitarian reports received from those areas are horrifying, and we continue to call for the protection of civilians and civilian infrastructure, respect for international humanitarian law, and appeal to neighbouring countries to continue keeping their borders open to those fleeing in search of safety.

As UNHCR has warned from the outset, the pace and magnitude of the internal displacement and refugee exodus from Ukraine, as well as resulting humanitarian needs, will only increase if the situation deteriorates..”

The UNHCR has a long-standing presence in eastern Europe, including in Poland, Hungary, Moldova, Slovakia and Romania, and is coordinating the refugee response with other UN agencies and NGO partners, in support of national authorities.  Much of the UNHCR work in countries bordering Ukraine has focussed on support for women and children, as they constitute some 90 per cent of those who have fled Ukraine for neighbouring countries.  The UNHCR has sought to highlight to Ukrainians the risks of trafficking, exploitation and abuse.

To support its work supporting refugees and meet the growing demand in Ukraine and neighbouring countries, UNHCR has announced it is seeking US$1.7 billion to provide support for an estimated 12 million people inside Ukraine who will need relief and protection, along with more than 4 million Ukrainian refugees who may need protection and assistance in neighbouring countries in the coming months.

The money is for two funds –

  • Flash Appeal asks for $1.1 billion to assist 6 million people inside Ukraine for an initial three months.
  • An inter-agency Regional Refugee Response Plan (RRP) for the Ukraine situation asks for a preliminary $550.6 million to help refugees in Poland, the Republic of Moldova, Hungary, Romania and Slovakia, as well as in other countries in the region in order to help host countries provide shelter, emergency relief items, cash assistance, and mental health and psychosocial support to those who fled Ukraine

The Disasters Emergency Committee appeal

The Disasters Emergency Committee brings together 15 leading UK aid charities, raising funds to quickly and effectively respond to overseas disasters.

On 2 March, the Disasters Emergency Committee launched the Ukraine Humanitarian Appeal seeking to raise money to support the work of Disaster Emergency Committee (DEC) charities and their local partners in Ukraine and in neighbouring countries providing food, water, shelter and medical assistance.

The DEC have estimated that around 18 million people may become affected by the conflict with 4 million of those expected to be displaced due to the conflict in Ukraine.  The UK Government has pledged to match pound-for-pound up to £20 million donated by the public to the DEC appeal.

Representatives of the Disasters Emergency Committee gave evidence to the Scottish Parliament’s Constitution, External Affairs and Culture Committee on 10 March 2022.  

The UK Government’s response

The UK Government has so far announced the following:

This funding is in addition to the £100 million economic package to mitigate the effects of the invasion, and $100 million (£74 million) for the Ukraine Government to mitigate financial pressures.

According to the UK Government the funding will “help aid agencies respond to the deteriorating situation, creating a lifeline for Ukrainians with access to basic necessities and medical supplies”.  In addition, the UK Government has sent humanitarian experts to the region to support those fleeing the violence in Ukraine.

On 14 March the UK Government announced proposals to donate more than 500 mobile generators in order to provide energy support for Ukrainian hospitals and shelters.

To support the flow of humanitarian aid, HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) announced a simplification of customs processes applying to goods exported from Britain which are intended to support those affected by the humanitarian crisis in Ukraine.

The Scottish Government’s response

On 28 February, the Scottish Government announced it was to provide financial aid and medical supplies to Ukraine following Russia’s invasion. According to the Scottish Government’s news release, an initial £4 million in humanitarian aid will be provided which is intended to help provide basic humanitarian assistance, including in health, water and sanitation, and shelter.  The Scottish Government indicated that the money will be allocated following discussions with UN agencies and that “it is likely Scottish Government will use a mix of approaches working with both NGOs and UN agencies”.

The Scottish Government also committed to providing medical supplies to Ukraine which included anaesthetic machines, syringe pumps and bandages. 

Following further work to identify what further medical supplies were needed, on 2 March, the Scottish Government announced a further supply of critical medical supplies and equipment would be sent to Ukraine.  According to the Scottish Government, over 500,000 emergency items valued at about £2.9 million, including hypodermic needles and oxygen masks are being donated by NHS Scotland.

An additional £1.2m in medical aid from NHS Scotland was announced on 4 March.

The Scottish Government has also created a website to help Scots make donations in a secure and effective way.  The new website states that at this time, the best way to help the people of Ukraine is to donate to registered charities that have ongoing relief operations.

The European Union’s response

The European Commission has announced an emergency package of €500 million to help with the humanitarian impact of the crisis. This package includes €85 million for Ukraine and €8 million for Moldova to provide basic needs for refugees fleeing the conflict.

Civil protection hubs have been set up in Poland, Romania and Slovakia to channel assistance delivered from the EU’s 27 member states. Civil protection experts have also been sent to Moldova and Poland to assist the local authorities.

The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development has announced a €2 billion resilience package to assist individuals, companies and countries affected by the war. The Bank has also pledged support to aid in Ukraine’s reconstruction, once conditions permit.

The response from neighbouring countries

As set out earlier in the blog, the UNHCR estimates that over three million refugees have left Ukraine within a week of the conflict starting. The UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi commented on the reaction from neighbouring countries to the crisis, noting:

“Despite the extraordinary pace and challenges, the response from governments and communities in receiving these 1 million refugees has been remarkable.”

The following paragraphs provide examples of the humanitarian effort in neighbouring countries to Ukraine.


The Polish Government has issued guidance for Ukrainian refugees, with information on how to obtain temporary accommodation, food and access to free medical care. Humanitarian assistance within Poland is being managed through the Polish Government’s coordination mechanism.

The UNHCR has commended the humanitarian response from the Polish people; collection points filled with donations have been set up near the Government’s reception centres. Polish citizens and local organisations are also offering support and free transport to arrivals at the border.

The Polish Parliament passed new legislation on 12 March, providing Ukrainian refugees with access to the Polish labour market and entitlement to some social security benefits. Polish businesses and individuals who provide accommodation and food to refugees will be eligible for financial assistance.


The Hungarian Government has pledged five trucks of humanitarian aid to Ukraine through the Hungarian ecumenical service. The Government has also pledged to open a humanitarian corridor for citizens from third-party countries and is offering financial support to employers who provide jobs for Ukrainian refugees.

Hungarian citizens have turned up at the border to offer refugees accommodation and transport.


On 2 March the Romanian President Klaus Iohannis announced the country would set up a logistics facility for the gathering and transport of international humanitarian aid to Ukraine and to the Ukrainian people. Volunteers from civil society and the emergency services are providing immediate relief, temporary shelter and transport at the border. Bus transfers have been organised jointly by the Romanian and Moldovan governments to help facilitate the safe movement of Ukrainian refugees between the two countries.

Guidance for refugees on the requirements for crossing the Romanian-Ukrainian border, alongside an orientation and conversation guide for Ukrainian citizens, has been published by the International Organization for Migration (IOM) Romania.

The response from civic society in Scotland

Whilst the neighbouring countries to Ukraine have welcomed the refugees and sought to provide humanitarian aid, civil societies across Europe and beyond have also looked to find ways to support the humanitarian effort. 

This includes civil society in Scotland where businesses, charities and community groups across the country have responded to the crisis by organising collection points for aid and fundraising. In particular, many of these initiatives been organised by the Polish community in Scotland.

The Polish Government, while expressing its gratitude for the donations, has advised those who wish to help not to organise further aid collections, as the transportation and distribution procedures generate additional work and costs for the Polish authorities during this difficult time.

The following sections provide examples of humanitarian activity from each of the Scottish Parliament regions. It is not designed to be comprehensive but instead to demonstrate examples of the civil society response across the country.

Central Scotland

A number of businesses in Lanarkshire are running collection points for humanitarian aid in the area. The 112th Lanarkshire Scouts group (based in Hamilton) has launched its own appeal for donations.

The Heron Farm Shop & Kitchen in South Lanarkshire, which is acting as a local drop-off point, has been “overwhelmed” after receiving enough donations to fill 3-4 lorries.


The charity Glasgow Caring City has dispatched 26 tonnes of essential supplies for refugees at the Polish-Ukrainian border. The charity’s Ukraine appeal reached its £10,000 fundraising target within three days of its launch.

The Glasgow-based Helping Ukraine initiative had to suspend donations after being overwhelmed with supplies at the Om Hindu Mandir temple.


The Polish community in Inverness has set up a collection point for items for Ukrainian refugees.

The non-profit organisation Highlands Support Refugees announced their plan to make a donation to organisations working on the ground at the Ukrainian border.

One local business in Caithness is selling Ukrainian flag cakes, with all proceeds going towards the UNICEF fund.


The Edinburgh Ukrainian club has put out a call for donations, with drop-off points at local businesses across the city.

The Dnipro Appeal Charity – set up in 2005 by Hibernian supporters following a football trip to Dnipropetrovsk – is providing support for orphaned children within the Ukrainian city.

Edinburgh Rugby launched a humanitarian appeal on 3 March, pledging to support the work of the Disasters Emergency Committee.

Donations in Edinburgh are also being collected at the city’s Polish supermarkets, cafes and at St Andrew’s Ukrainian Catholic Church.

Mid Scotland and Fife

Polish businesses in Kirkcaldy have organised collection points for humanitarian aid, as part of an appeal from the Scottish Polish community group.

Pupils at a Polish Saturday school in Perth have been making posters in support of Ukraine, with Polish businesses in the city acting as drop-off points for donations.

The BBC has reported that collection points across Fife and Tayside “have been inundated”.

North East Scotland

Aberdeen-based non-profit organisations Own Woman and AberNecessities are fundraising for humanitarian aid transport to the Polish-Ukrainian border, with support from the Polish Association Aberdeen.

South Scotland

A Ukrainian chapel in Lockerbie (established in 1947 by former Ukrainian prisoners of war) is operating as a collection point for those in the local community who wish to donate clothes and medicines.

West Scotland

Mossgiel Organic Dairy Farm in Ayrshire has received hundreds of bags of donations from across the country. The aid is to be delivered to the Polish-Ukrainian border in two transit vans.

Several Renfrewshire businesses and the 2nd Johnstone Scout group are also collecting donations for delivery to the border.

Iain McIver and Alisdair Grahame


This blog was updated on 7 March to reflect the fact that now more than 1.5 million refugees have left Ukraine.