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April 22, 2022

How cash assistance is helping refugees from Ukraine

UNHCR staff members hugs two boys who fled Ukraine.

In less than two months, more than five million people have been forced to flee Ukraine and more than a quarter of the total population of the country has been forcibly displaced due to the war. The majority of the people fleeing Ukraine are women and children who are arriving at borders with little more than the clothes on their backs. 

As the war continues, more people will be at risk of losing their homes and will be forced to flee across borders into countries like Poland, Romania, Hungary and Moldova. To address the growing needs of refugees and people displaced inside Ukraine, UNHCR is working with governments and partners to roll out cash assistance in Ukraine and neighboring countries. 

What is cash assistance?

Cash assistance is one of the most efficient and effective ways to ensure that displaced people have access to money during an emergency situation. Cash also helps restore a sense of normalcy as it reestablishes agency for refugees to make informed decisions about what they spend the money on. Using secure finance technology and data protection measures, displaced people are able to quickly and securely access cash. Refugees and internally displaced people (IDPs) are able to purchase goods and services with cash assistance, which in turn boosts the economy of the host communities they’re living in and facilitates peaceful coexistence. 

The distribution of cash differs from country to country but is designed with data privacy and security in mind. During enrollment appointments, refugees provide personal information to ensure they have unique access to their cash allotments. Once families have their applications approved, they can start retrieving cash through existing banking systems. Cash-based interventions offer a more dignified way of assisting refugees and IDPs as they empower people to determine their own needs and the best way of meeting them.

How does cash assistance support refugees from Ukraine?

In an emergency situation, often the best way to support IDPs and refugees fleeing from conflict is to provide them with cash assistance. In Ukraine, the quick escalation of violence forced millions of families to flee, leaving behind their homes and jobs with nothing more than a few pieces of luggage holding everything they could flee with. Once relocated within Ukraine or across borders, displaced families need a dignified way to immediately access basic necessities like food, hygiene items and temporary accommodation. 

Refugees are being registered for cash assistance at community-based centers and Blue Dots, safe spaces where women and children receive psychosocial support, emergency items such as clothing and blankets and helpful information about the next step in their journey. With UNHCR’s support, the provision of cash assistance is linked to the vital protection services refugees need. 

Rozalia, a refugee who fled Ukraine with her son Andre registers for cash assistance.

Rozalia, a refugee who fled Ukraine with her son Andre, has a roof over her head thanks to a kind Polish journalist but is dependent on cash assistance to feed her son. “Our fridge is empty, so we need to buy food,” she says. “Some people have tried to give us food, but I feel ashamed. I want to buy it myself.”

Who qualifies for cash assistance and for how long will they receive it? 

The Ukraine crisis presents an opportunity for UNHCR to work closely with governments and partners to effectively provide cash assistance to refugees and IDPs. The European Union has offered temporary protection status to people fleeing Ukraine, but the registration process is lengthy. The cash assistance program is designed to act as a transitional safety net to address immediate needs until refugees can be included in national social welfare programs. As such, the duration of the program generally spans between 3-4 months but varies from country to country. 

UNHCR is currently the main provider of cash assistance to refugees in neighboring countries and the second largest provider of cash assistance to IDPs in Ukraine. Women-headed households and people with disabilities or chronic/critical health conditions are qualified to receive cash assistance. Refugees and IDPs who meet the criteria can enroll for cash assistance through in-person appointments at reception centers, Blue Dots or government offices working with UNHCR and its partners. If they qualify for assistance, they will receive cash each month which can be collected from ATMs, bank accounts or post offices.

How is UNHCR distributing cash assistance to displaced people in Ukraine?

    The number of people estimated to be internally displaced within Ukraine is 7.1 million, and 13 million remain stranded in hard-to-reach areas. To meet the dire needs of the growing number of displaced people in Ukraine, UNHCR has launched cash assistance programs throughout the country in collaboration with Ukrposhta, the national postal service of Ukraine. Every month, people who are qualified for cash assistance will be able to redeem their cash at branches of the postal service using their ID. 

    As an initial target, UNHCR intends to reach 360,000 displaced people in Ukraine over the course of three months. Enrollment is underway across the country with the capacity to enroll as many as 6,000 people a day. As of mid-April, more than 50,000 people were enrolled and are receiving payment and many more will receive cash assistance in the weeks to come. Each month, those enrolled in the cash assistance program will receive 2,220 Hryvnia, or the equivalent of $75 USD, at their local branch of Ukrposhta. 

    “Our partner UNHCR has chosen Ukrposhta for the direct disbursement of funds to Ukrainians in need, because we have vast experience in delivering money to people during wartime, and can provide various formats of payment: delivery to the branch or address delivery. Ukrposhta has the widest network, and our branches have been operating since the beginning of the war in Ukraine, even in Sumy, Kharkiv, Mykolayiv, Kherson and other cities where the situation is critical and where the population needs help the most,” said Ukrposhta Director General Igor Smilyansky.

    Where are refugees receiving cash assistance outside of Ukraine?

      More than 5 million people have been forced to flee Ukraine into neighboring countries including Poland, which has received nearly 60 percent of all refugees from Ukraine. As the number of people fleeing Ukraine continues to grow, UNHCR is ramping up cash assistance programs across different countries to support governments in meeting refugees’ needs. The cash assistance program is currently active in Ukraine, Poland and Moldova and will be rolled out in Romania and Slovakia as well. 

      In Poland, qualified refugees from Ukraine are accessing cash assistance via ATMs. UNHCR intends to provide cash assistance to 450,000 refugees in Poland and has enrolled 9,500 refugees as of April 4 with many more being registered each day. Refugees are receiving the equivalent of approximately $170 USD per person monthly or $605 USD per household monthly for a minimum of three months. 

      In Moldova, where the influx of refugees has been straining the capacity of the country to respond effectively, UNHCR’s cash assistance program is providing much-needed support. The program is helping to identify the most vulnerable refugees and host community members. As of April 5, 4,200 people have been enrolled and up to 150,000 qualified people will be able to receive the equivalent of approximately $120 USD a month through a prepaid card in collaboration with Moldova’s largest bank. 

      Viktoria holds her son Evgeny and looks over her 7-month old neice in a stroller.

      Viktoria escaped Ukraine with her family and son Evgeny after her apartment building was damaged by rockets. She is now a volunteer in Moldova assisting other refugees from Ukraine. Her family benefits from UNHCR’s cash assistance program, a significant portion of which goes towards the children. “[My son] Evgeny doesn't want to eat as his father is not next to him, so we are trying to compensate by buying some nice food for him, so that he gains his appetite back. Thanks to the cash assistance that allows us to treat children with some simple but well needed pleasures,” says Viktoria.

      How to help...

      More than 5 million people—mostly women, children and the elderly—have been forced to flee Ukraine. As they arrive in a new country with the few belongings they have, they desperately need emergency supplies, lifesaving care and protection. With the support of cash assistance, they’ll be able to make dignified decisions about how to support their families. Make a difference today by becoming USA for UNHCR’s newest monthly donor.