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The latest on the refugee crisis in Ukraine


Ukrainians continue to flee cities in search of shelter, food and safety. Some international aid groups are trying to provide civilians with essential supplies on the ground - food, clothing and, critically, cash.

David Miliband is the CEO and president of the International Rescue Committee, which has been working with local Ukrainian organizations. He joins us now from Brussels. Of course, he's also Britain's former foreign secretary. Mr. Miliband, thanks so much for being with us.

DAVID MILIBAND: Thank you very much, Scott. Great to be with you.

SIMON: You've recently been in central Ukraine. Please tell us what you saw and heard.

MILIBAND: I found a nation really living in fear. We traveled to Moldova, where about 400,000 Ukrainians have passed through - 100,000 stayed - but we then went into central Ukraine. And the people who are fleeing are remarkable for their resilience and their courage, but I want to remind your listeners it's all women and children because the men have stayed behind to fight. And so in addition to the obvious health needs, the economic needs, there is just this trauma very close to the surface of people who've said goodbye not just to their homes, but to their loved ones, and they don't know whether they're going to see them again.

SIMON: What do they need? What can the world provide?

MILIBAND: Some of them have quite acute health needs. Some of them have noncommunicable diseases and need medical supplies. Others need trauma support. There's a big need for psychological support because of what they've been through. And then, of course, the Ukrainian government has mandated obviously that schools are closed, but they're keeping going online classes, but the kids who are taking those online classes need educational support. And then there's a need for cash to keep the economy going and to help people pay their bills. And that's why the cash distribution that you mentioned is so important.

SIMON: Well, help us understand that, because that's - in my experience as a reporter overseas in war zones - is often overlooked, but it's absolutely vital to keep a kind of semblance of society going, isn't it?

MILIBAND: Yes, and this is a different kind of conflict in a number of ways. It's a conflict in a middle-class society where people have bank accounts, and so you can deliver cash into those bank accounts. But they're not in their own homes. They're not in their own hometowns. They've not got their jobs anymore. And keeping the economy going is absolutely vital. It's as vital as making sure that humanitarian supplies reach the besieged areas. Now, no one has reached the besieged city of Mariupol, which has been obliterated, pulverized. But in other cities, there is humanitarian access, and it's vital that we're able to reach people there because some people are disabled or old and can't get out and need to stay in their homes.

SIMON: You just spoke to the European Council on Foreign Relations and touched on what you see as what could be the impact of this war and urge Western countries to begin to plan, I guess, for what amounts to geopolitical consequences. You are very familiar in that realm. Help us understand what you sketched out for people.

MILIBAND: Yeah, the title of my speech at the European Council on Foreign Relations was "United West, Divided World," question mark. And there has been remarkable unity of action facilitated by the Biden administration, with European nations standing tall and standing up in a very strong way both on the economic front as well as the military front. But the global situation is that more than half the world's population have leaders who've refused to condemn the Russian invasion - democracies like Brazil, democracies like India. And I think it's very important that while we can't yet know how the war will end, we need to understand that the geopolitical consequences are severe and call for organizations like the Group of Seven leading industrialized democracies that are meeting next month to establish a different kind of framing for the way in which this war is understood. And my own view is that it needs to be understood in the framing of law versus impunity, law versus anarchy, and it needs to be followed up with consistency and strategy from the liberal democratic world in a way that builds a much more inclusive coalition to defend the rule of law from the kind of flagrant attempts to undermine it that we've seen recently.

SIMON: Do you have any concern, Mr. Miliband, that the IRC and other international assistance groups will be able to maintain the degree of support and conscientious support, given what could be the length of this engagement?

MILIBAND: Well, the outpouring of support for Ukrainians has been overwhelmingly strong. But I do have real fears both about the sustenance of that support and about the fact that Ukraine isn't the only crisis in the world today. Afghanistan, Syria, Ethiopia - those other crises provide a real challenge to international humanitarian aid groups. And one of the very important things the International Rescue Committee can do to help combat the sense that somehow there's a hypocrisy in the West, that we're only concerned about people in Europe or who are under siege, is to make sure that our programs in Ethiopia and in Syria and in Afghanistan are sustained while we tool up for a massive effort in Ukraine, and we're determined to do that.

SIMON: David Miliband is CEO and president of the International Rescue Committee, speaking from Brussels. Thanks so much for being with us.

MILIBAND: Thanks very much, Scott. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Scott Simon is one of America's most admired writers and broadcasters. He is the host of Weekend Edition Saturday and is one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. He has reported from all fifty states, five continents, and ten wars, from El Salvador to Sarajevo to Afghanistan and Iraq. His books have chronicled character and characters, in war and peace, sports and art, tragedy and comedy.