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Refugees fleeing Ukraine into Poland
Visar Kryeziu/AP/AAP

Food shortages, millions of refugees, and global price spikes: the knock-on effects of Russia’s Ukraine invasion

In the wake of the Russia’s continued aggression and a third round of inconclusive diplomatic negotiations, the death toll and humanitarian crisis continues to worsen in Ukraine.

In just 70 days of war, a quarter of Ukraine’s population have left their homes. 5.5 million refugees have fled the country, and a further 7.1 million people have been internally displaced.

Experts say they’ve hardly seen a humanitarian crisis evolving as rapidly as this.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine isn’t only devastating the lives of ordinary Ukrainians, it is already creating economic disruption and increasing poverty, food insecurity and inflation far beyond Eastern Europe.

Read more: Ukraine refugees need urgent, ongoing health care. We've worked in refugee camps and there's a right way to do it

Worsening humanitarian situation

In Ukraine, major infrastructure has been destroyed, and there are severe shortages of food and water. Many innocent Ukrainians are facing starvation. Disruptions to electricity and basic supplies are widespread.

My grandparents, both 85-year-old survivors of the second world war, rely on food and vital medicine to be delivered by volunteers to their apartment in central Kyiv.

And Kyiv isn’t even the worst of it. The extent of hardship in Mariupol and Kharkiv is still unknown, as people in these areas have been largely unreachable online for more than two months. The last available reports say access to power, food, and water is precarious at best.

Russian servicemen and volunteers distributing humanitarian aid in the Ukranian city of Berdyansk.
The humanitarian crisis in Ukraine has left many women and children without essential supplies like food and medicine. SERGEI ILNITSKY/EPA/AAP

The humanitarian crisis is worsening not just in Ukraine, but also in the territories controlled by Russia.

One example is the Donetsk People’s Republic, which has become a bridgehead for Russian troops into the Donbass region. Close family friends in Donetsk tell me constant shelling has disrupted their water supply, so people are forced to queue at a local communal water pipe station for hours.

Read more: Russia's invasion of Ukraine is illegal under international law: suggesting it's not is dangerous

Access to humanitarian aid provided by global charities is another big problem. Russia’s refusal to comply with basic humanitarian law has made it difficult to create sustainable humanitarian corridors in Ukrainian territory, meaning aid isn’t reaching parts of Ukraine that need it, all while Russia delivers their own humanitarian aid to Russian-controlled Donetsk and Luhansk.

Local businesses and non-for-profit community organisations have made an extraordinary effort to assist in Ukraine. They’ve established voluntary networks to provide medication, food, and psychological support to the most vulnerable.

Ukrainian refugees attempting to cross the Poland-Ukraine border
The Russian invasion has forced millions of Ukrainians to flee the country to surrounding nations. DAREK DELMANOWICZ/EPA/AAP

Escalating refugee crisis

The 5.5 million refugees having fled Ukraine makes this the fastest growing refugee crisis since the second world war and the first of its kind in Europe since the Yugoslav Wars in the 1990s.

An estimated 55 children are forced to flee the country every minute. More than half of Ukraine’s children had been displaced after just a month of the invasion.

The main destinations for Ukrainian refugees are neighbouring European nations to the west – Poland, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Moldova, Hungary, and Romania.

Australia has offered a temporary solution, issuing more than 6,000 temporary visas to Ukrainians offering a pathway to a temporary humanitarian protection visa.

The global impacts

Russia’s invasion is having global consequences beyond destroying Ukraine.

Increasing food and fuel prices are chief among them. Exacerbated poverty is likely to be another.

The Washington-based Center for Global Development estimates at least 40 million people around the world will be pushed into extreme poverty – defined as living on less than $1.90 a day – because of the price spike sparked by Russia’s invasion.

Another concern is global wheat supplies. Ukraine and Russia together account for more than a quarter of world wheat exports.

The conflict will likely see wheat prices skyrocket as major wheat importers including Egypt, Indonesia, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Azerbaijan and Turkey compete for alternative supplies.

This war has also hit Russia hard

Russia is facing its most difficult economic situation in three decades due to Western sanctions and the mounting death toll of Russian soldiers.

Export restrictions and sanctions on Russian food production will heighten levels of poverty in Russia over the next six months, leaving low-income households particularly vulnerable to supply shortages.

Also hard hit will be Russia’s low-income trading partners. Some of the most economically exposed countries will be those with historically favourable relations with Russia including Egypt, Turkey, India, South Africa and Thailand.

Read more: A year of hunger: how the Russia-Ukraine war is worsening climate-linked food shortages

In response to the global consequences of Russia’s invasion, major NGOs and international finance institutions must act quickly to address the urgent humanitarian needs.

Meanwhile, wealthy governments should provide immediate funding to curb the worst consequences of an imminent global food crisis.

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