Russia’s advance threatens key humanitarian aid corridors in Ukraine

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Image: Reuters/Eduardo Munoz
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Billions of dollars worth of humanitarian aid is flowing into Ukraine, as international groups work to get food, water, medicine, shelter, hygiene products, and other necessities to civilians living through the Russian invasion.

Moving aid into Ukraine quickly and distributing it in the middle of a war presents a big logistical challenge. The sudden arrival of tons of cargo could overwhelm local airports, warehouses, and trucking capacity, driving up prices and creating bottlenecks similar to those seen at global ports at the peak of the holiday shopping season.

How the UN is coordinating aid to Ukraine

To avoid chaos, the UN’s logistics arm has rented storage space in key cities and hired a fleet of trucks to deliver goods from all humanitarian organizations. The vast majority of aid flowing into Ukraine now arrives in three Polish cities with suitable airports and ample warehouse space: Warsaw, Lublin, and Rzeszów. It is then trucked across the border to the western Ukrainian city of Lviv, before moving east to distribution hubs in Kyiv, Vinnytsia, and Dnipro.

So far, those aid corridors remain open. But the advancing Russian army threatens to choke off key supply routes.

Russia attacks on humanitarian aid hubs

The Russian military hasn’t respected humanitarian corridors in territory it controls. Usually, these corridors flow in two directions: Refugees escape away from the fighting, while aid workers enter conflict zones to distribute supplies to the people who can’t get out. Although Russia has agreed to establish humanitarian corridors, it has drawn international condemnation for later shelling or blockading them.

Russian forces are already advancing on one key UN aid hub—Kyiv—and they are reportedly planning an attack on another: Dnipro. Taking Dnipro would allow Russia to cut supply lines to Ukrainian troops fighting in the east of the country, forcing them to retreat west or surrender. An attack on Dnipro also threatens to cut the UN’s humanitarian supply lines, hindering efforts to get food and medicine to civilians in eastern Ukraine.

If Russian troops take control of more Ukrainian cities, humanitarian groups’ ability to distribute aid in Ukraine will depend on Russia’s cooperation. The sooner humanitarian corridors are established and respected, the better, says Dave Hartman, who heads humanitarian aid efforts at the logistics company Flexport. “If you do establish [corridors] early and they are respected, it can ensure that we don’t wind up getting to critical levels where folks are dealing with just abominable conditions,” he said. “Once things start to deteriorate, it can get out of hand very quickly.”