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Aid group official warns the humanitarian crisis in Ukraine risks becoming "normalized"

KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — A major aid group is concerned that there is not enough international attention given to Ukraine and is bracing for fewer donations used to finance operations in the battle-scarred country, its president warned on Tuesday.

The head of the International Rescue Committee, David Miliband said, his central concern is that the 19-month war and the resulting humanitarian crisis caused by Russia’s invasion and continued attacks on civilian infrastructure are becoming “normalized” by the international community while the needs brought about by the war show no signs of diminishing, he said.

“We know that the 2022 figures for humanitarian aid in Ukraine are not going to be repeated," he told the Associated Press. Miliband said they don't expect the donations received from Europe and North America last year to be matched.

The IRC received $40 million in funding for Ukraine operations in 2022. In 2023, the aid group received almost less than half of that sum, with $27 million. Yet the needs have remained consistent, he said.

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There are currently 18 million Ukrainians in humanitarian need, five million people internally displaced and six million refugees residing in other countries, Miliband said, adding that civilian deaths and the levels of internal displacement continue to be “high” and “record-breaking” respectively.

The coping mechanisms of Ukrainian citizens have been depleting after months of war. Many families, especially those living close to frontline areas with no means of support, are running out of savings to buy food and supplies. Mine contamination such as IEDs and unexploded ordinance is ruining the livelihoods of farmers and livestock owners. Constant shelling has terrorized civilians and continues to destroy countless homes.

“These are all the symptoms of a protracted crisis," he said, adding that a drawn-out war in Ukraine is an imminent danger.

Miliband said they expect the coming winter to be especially cold and fear a renewed Russian campaign to target civilian and energy infrastructure which last year kept many Ukrainians without power during the coldest months of the year.

Ukraine has since improved its air defense capabilities.

Miliband said donors — including countries in Europe, North America, and the oil-rich Gulf states—still express “very strong commitment to Ukraine” and “ there is no retreat from the commitments” made, but there are needs that have to be met across the globe.

He added that particularly in Europe, international aid funds are being used to support Ukrainian refugees who have fled the country and resettled there. “That’s a double whammy on some of the poorest people in the world who are beyond Ukraine but are affected by the crisis.”

IRC is active in Somalia, Nigeria, Syria and Afghanistan, countries where civil wars and hostilities have been raging for years if not decades. Miliband said the aid group has witnessed how lengthy conflicts can easily “lose attention, lose interest and the abnormal becomes normalized,” he said.