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Ukraine two years on: Resolve still strong amidst emerging problems of homelessness, mental illness, and human trafficking

21 February 2024

Two years since the full-scale invasion of Ukraine, long-term issues such as homelessness, mental illness and human trafficking are emerging, according to Catholic aid agency CAFOD.

  • Saturday 24 February marks two years since the start of the conflict.

  • At least one quarter of the Ukrainian population was displaced in the weeks following the full-scale invasion, now many people have had to move multiple times.

The full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022 has left 3.6 million people internally displaced and over 6 million seeking refuge outside the country. At least one quarter of the population was displaced in the first few weeks, some now multiple times. For those living in Donetsk and Luhansk, where the separatist conflict has raged since 2014, this number is particularly high.

Ukrainians have faced two years of food shortages and two winters of freezing temperatures and power cuts. Despite these conditions, the Ukrainian resolve remains strong. As many as 4.6 million people have returned to Ukraine, some because of renewed requirements in countries like Romania, but many because they have a strong desire to return to their own country.

CAFOD partners report countless numbers of people living in damaged buildings, often in sheds or small “bath houses”, with blown-out windows and no insulation.

Following a recent visit to Ukraine, CAFOD’s Emergency Programme Officer Henry Wilson-Smith said:

“I met elderly couples whose family homes were destroyed by shelling but were determined to rebuild brick by brick. One family got halfway through when another shell wrecked their work.

“We have also seen local people reconnecting electricity themselves, digging wells and cleaning the streets. In homeless shelters, veterans are planting gardens to grow food and build more wings for new clients. People’s resolve is astonishing.”

Nataliia is among those determined to stay with her two children in a war-ravaged village near Kharkiv while her husband is away in the army. With no gas, and the kindergarten destroyed, she installed a wood-fired boiler to heat their home and takes online classes with her two young children.

“We have electricity, we have firewood,” Nataliia said. “So, we will spend winter here. I want to be at home.”

Thanks to generous support for CAFOD’s Ukraine Humanitarian Appeal, and the Disasters Emergency Committee (DEC), of which CAFOD is a member, the charity has helped over 140,000 vulnerable women, men and children access vital aid including food, water, shelter, child-friendly spaces and counselling support across Ukraine, working through local Ukrainian partner organisations: Depaul Ukraine, Caritas Ukraine and Caritas-Spes Ukraine.

However, the daily threat from shelling and airstrikes continues, and the conflict has brought longer-term problems to the surface. These include an increase in conflict-related trauma and mental health problems among citizens and a marked rise in human trafficking.

CAFOD’s Emergency Programme Officer Henry Wilson-Smith, said:

“I recently met a woman called Yulia in Kyiv. After being left homeless with her two young sons, she saw an advert for work on a pig farm, which promised free accommodation and meals. After a month and a half, Yulia was paid barely half of the advertised rate, kept short of food, and lived in a freezing caravan. Her ID was also taken. She took her children and escaped.”

“After hitch-hiking back to Kyiv, a local organisation funded by CAFOD helped her get a job as a cashier at a supermarket and place her children in a school and kindergarten. This is just one of many cases we are seeing. It’s estimated that even prior to the war over 500,000 people lived in modern slavery in Ukraine: one of the highest rates in the world.”

Henry Wilson-Smith added:

“Thank you to everyone who has supported CAFOD and the DEC’s Ukraine Humanitarian Appeal and the work of our local partners across Ukraine. It would not have been possible to help so many people without this incredible generosity. Please continue to pray, give and stand by us as we prepare for the year ahead.”

CAFOD has spokespeople available for interviews. Please contact or +44(0)7909 875 956, or CAFOD’s out-of-hours media line: +44 (0)7919 301 429.   

What can I do to help?

We continue to support those affected by the conflict in Ukraine. Please donate to our appeal to help support our efforts. Please pray for lasting peace and those affected by this crisis.