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In The Midst of Crisis in Ukraine, Women and Children Are Left On their Own

Mother and daughter in Poland

© Adrienne Surprenant /MYOP

© Adrienne Surprenant /MYOP

As families flee Ukraine to neighboring countries, many women with children make the journey on their own.

“If the war continues, nothing will be left. It is a bloody war, a monstrous war,” says Kotove, 45, who fled Ukraine to Poland with her 12-year-old daughter in the midst of a looming humanitarian catastrophe in Ukraine. In the freezing night at the border, mother and daughter try to keep warm under a blanket.

“My daughter is just crying,” Kotove says. They fled while bombs were falling. Their grandmother had to stay behind in Ukraine. Russian tanks are advancing on their town. The population is trapped.

As the humanitarian situation in Ukraine gets worse by the hour, families are desperately trying to escape to neighboring countries. Due to the fact that men between the ages of 18 and 60 must stay in Ukraine, many women with children are left 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.

Refugees cross the border into Poland.
© Adrienne Surprenant /MYOP

Christina, aged 4, and her mother Maria arrived safely in Poland, however like many refugees arriving in new countries, the shock of the journey lingers along with the uncertainty of what’s next.

“What we’re going to do now, I don’t know yet,” Maria says. “The war is everywhere.”

Women and girls are at particular risk in active conflict situations, and during widescale displacement, gender-based violence, exploitation, discrimination, and poor access to vital health services all rise.

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

“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.”

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.”


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