(Reuters) The next wave of refugees to flee Ukraine are likely to be even more vulnerable to illness and economic hardship than the 1 million people who have already left to escape the Russian invasion, a senior World Health Organization official told Reuters on Thursday.
Speaking from a warehouse in Warsaw, Poland, where the WHO is coordinating the delivery of 36 tons of medical aid to Ukraine, Europe director Hans Kluge said the situation was already a “humanitarian catastrophe” that was set to worsen as Russian troops surround and bombard major Ukrainian cities.
Kluge’s comments come as officials from Russia and Ukraine said they have agreed to establish humanitarian corridors for the delivery of aid and potentially to introduce a ceasefire in some areas to help fleeing civilians.
The United Nations said that 1 million people have now fled their homes in Ukraine, heading to Poland and other neighbors to the west.
“If the military conflict escalates, that means we are going to see more and more very vulnerable people coming with only the clothes on their body,” Kluge said.
Many refugees in the first wave include people who had the financial means and family connections to escape and meet relatives or friends in Poland or elsewhere, he said.
But as fighting intensifies, Ukrainians with fewer resources and in poorer health “who are going to need a lot more support” will be forced to make the dangerous trip to the border, Kluge said. Those who remain behind risk a lack of medical supplies and emergency care, he said.
The WHO aid, delivered to Poland on Thursday, will move to the Ukrainian city of Lviv first and then into conflict areas from Friday. It includes trauma kits for 1,000 people as well as other medical care for up to 150,000 people, including cancer medications and insulin for diabetes patients.
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