Media release

Full-scale Ukraine war enters third year, prolonging uncertainty and exile for millions of displaced 

LONDON, February 2023After two years of full-scale war in Ukraine, amidst massive destruction and ongoing shelling and missile attacks across the country, the future for millions who have been displaced remains shrouded in uncertainty. 

As war rages on, humanitarian conditions remain dire inside Ukraine, where some 40 per cent of the population are in need of humanitarian and protection support. For many, this is not the first encounter with war and displacement as this week also marks 10 years since the war in Eastern Ukraine began.   

There are currently almost 6.5 million refugees from Ukraine who have sought refuge globally, while some 3.7 million people remain forcibly displaced inside the country. 

According to preliminary findings from a recent study by UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, the majority of Ukrainian refugees and internally displaced people surveyed (65 and 72 per cent respectively) still expressed a desire to return home one day. However, the proportion has declined, with more expressing uncertainty due to the ongoing war. 

UNHCR’s study, Lives on Hold: Intentions and perspectives of refugees, refugee returnees and internally displaced peoples from Ukraine, is based on interviews conducted in January and February this year, with some 9,900 Ukrainian refugee, internally displaced and returnee households inside and outside the country. 

Those displaced who were surveyed cited the prevailing insecurity in Ukraine as the main factor inhibiting their return, while other concerns included a lack of economic opportunities and housing. A key priority for UNHCR is to repair houses in Ukraine so that people can remain in their homes. More than 27,500 homes have been repaired to date. However, amongst refugee returnees interviewed in Ukraine, more than half – 55 per cent –reported that there were fewer job opportunities than they thought there would be. 

Worryingly, a significant proportion of Ukrainian refugees surveyed – some 59 per cent – indicated that they might be compelled to return home even if this is not their preferred choice due to the ongoing war, if they continue to face challenges in host countries, mainly related to work opportunities and legal status. 

Previous reports also indicate that refugees with specific needs and vulnerabilities, including older people and those with disabilities, are also considering returning, primarily due to a perceived lack of other remaining options. 

This refugee crisis is defined by a large degree of family separation – with many male family members remaining in Ukraine, often bringing challenges for those forced to flee the country and those left behind, without family support. This report reveals that family reunification was a main driver for refugees who have returned home permanently. 

More refugees are now undertaking short-term visits to Ukraine – some 50 per cent compared to 39 per cent last year – mainly to visit family members, but also to check on property. As noted in UNHCR’s Position on Voluntary Returns to Ukraine, Link is external such visits can ultimately help facilitate fully informed decisions on longer-term return once conditions permit

UNHCR urges host States to maintain a flexible approach to refugees’ short-term visits to Ukraine, and that refugees’ legal status and associated rights in a host country are not affected by visits lasting less than three months. The protection and needs of refugees must be ensured until they can voluntarily and sustainably return home, in safety and dignity. 

As long as the war continues, refugees, internally displaced and war-affected people who have remained in frontline areas require urgent support. While the resilience of people remains strong and recovery efforts are well underway in many areas, this must continue to be supported or the protection and resilience of the Ukrainians will be jeopardised. 

Emma Cherniavsky, Chief Executive of UK for UNHCR, said:

“We have seen a massive outpouring of solidarity with and support for Ukraine – and this much-needed support cannot stop now. This war cannot become another forgotten crisis.

“The war has led to devastation, destruction and millions of people have been uprooted. Until it is safe to return, those displaced need support in host countries, including vital assistance with housing, livelihoods, and access to essential services.

“UNHCR is working tirelessly to provide essential support to those who need it most. But we can’t do it alone. We need your help to ensure that these families get the assistance they need to survive and rebuild their lives.”

UNHCR is appealing for $993.3 million – $599 million for inside Ukraine and the remainder to support refugees in host countries. The Ukraine situation is currently just 13 per cent funded. Unless timely funding is received, we may be forced to cut essential activities in Ukraine and in neighbouring countries.   

The people of Ukraine, living daily with the impacts of this war, must not be forgotten. We have seen a massive outpouring of solidarity with and support for Ukraine and this much-needed support cannot stop now.  

For more information on how you can help or to make a donation, please visit  


Notes to the editor: 

Last month, the United Nations and partners jointly appealed for a combined $4.2 billion to support war-affected communities in Ukraine and Ukrainian refugees and their host communities in the region throughout 2024. In total, plans aim to support some 10.8 million people in Ukraine and the region.   

The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) coordinates the response inside Ukraine. This Humanitarian Needs and Response Plan requests $3.1 billion for 2024 and targets 8.5 million people. UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, coordinates the Regional Refugee Response Plan (RRP), which requests $1.1 billion and targets 2.3 million refugees and host communities.  

See UNHCR’s report, Lives on hold: Intentions and Perspectives of Refugees, Refugee Returnees and IDPs from Ukraine #5 Summary Findings

Additional information is also available here: 

For more information on this topic, please contact: 

Aisha Musad, Communications Officer, [email protected] 

Notes to Editor 

About UK for UNHCR  

UK for UNHCR is the UN Refugee Agency’s national charity partner for the UK. We build solidarity, create partnerships and raise funds across the UK to help deliver global humanitarian relief for refugees through UNHCR’s work.   

UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, leads international action to protect people forced to flee their homes because of conflict and persecution. It delivers life-saving assistance like shelter, food and water, helps safeguard fundamental human rights, and develops solutions that ensure people have a safe place to call home where they can build a better future. UNHCR also works to ensure that stateless people are granted a nationality.  

UK for UNHCR is a registered charity in England and Wales (registered charity number 1183415).   

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