How the Ukrainian Humanitarian Crisis Affects Life in Vienna

Lifestyle & TravelCulture ♦ Published: April 25, 2022; 19:23 ♦ (Vindobona)

The humanitarian crisis created by Russia's brutal war in Ukraine can now be felt in Vienna. Read how the crisis is affecting life in Vienna.

Over 5.2 million Ukrainians have fled Russia's war in Ukraine as refugees. Of these, Austria has seen more than 280,000 refugees enter the country. / Picture: © Mirek Pruchnicki from Przemyśl, Sanok, Polska, CC BY 2.0 , via Wikimedia Commons

Whether it is the countless Ukrainian license plates on cars, the ongoing demonstrations and fundraisers, or simply running into more Ukrainians in daily life, it has become obvious to every inhabitant of Vienna over the past two months that Russia’s brutal war in Ukraine has arrived in Austria.

Heartbreaking and horrific images, videos, and stories of atrocities by the Russian military continue to come out of Ukraine as Russia, led by President Vladimir Putin, has created a humanitarian catastrophe for millions of Ukrainians.

As a result of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has declared the situation a level 3 (highest level) emergency and reported that there are now over seven million Ukrainians displaced within Ukraine and nearly 5.2 million refugees that have fled Ukraine to other countries. At nearly three million, an overwhelming majority of Ukrainians fleeing the war have sought refuge in neighboring Poland. A significant number of Ukrainian refugees have also gone to Romania, Russia, Hungary, Moldova, and Slovakia.

Situation in Austria

Like many other countries in Europe and around the world, Austria has been viewing the war with shock and horror, and the Austrian people have been doing what they can to help the Ukrainians. Along with the rest of the European Union, Austria has provided Ukrainians with temporary protection status. While Austria has witnessed over 280,000 refugees come into the country, Vienna Online reports that most of them have moved on to other countries in Europe. However, according to Mediendienst Integration, a German information platform for journalists on the subjects of flight, migration and discrimination, there are still roughly 60,000 Ukrainian refugees being accommodated in Austria. The Austrian government’s Refugee Coordinator, Michael Takacs, predicted that this number will likely grow and estimated that the government should be prepared to house over 200,000 refugees.

The Austrian government has set up “registration points” throughout Austria to help manage the humanitarian disaster by processing refugees entering the country and administering immediate aid to those in need. As Austria’s largest city and an international hub, Vienna has registered a significant amount of the refugees in the country. In addition to temporary protection, the Austrian government has provided Ukrainian refugees with unrestricted access to the labor market as well as eligibility for welfare benefits. Vienna Online reports that over 40,000 cards providing labor and welfare access have already been sent out by the Austrian employment service (AMS). On top of this, the Austrian government has pledged € 27.5 million in humanitarian aid to help Ukraine and other countries, such as Moldova, manage the crisis.

Vienna’s businesses and inhabitants have also made sure that nobody will manage to forget about or ignore the ongoing war. One cannot walk around the city without seeing Ukrainian flags and other signs expressing support for the people of Ukraine. Additionally, there have been large demonstrations in Austria almost every weekend since the war began. At these demonstrations, one can see Austrians, Ukrainians, and even Russians expressing their opposition to the war and showing solidarity with the Ukrainian people in Austria. In addition to the demonstrations, there continue to be massive fundraisers for the Ukrainians. In many instances, the tickets for the events are quickly sold out, or there are extremely long lines to enter. Like in much of the world, people in Austria are eager to help the Ukrainian people in their time of need.

As it is home to the many international organizations trying to negotiate an end to the conflict, the war can also be seen in Vienna’s diplomatic community. Nearly every day, there is a statement from officials at the United Nations, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the Organization for Security and Cooperation (OSCE), and others calling on Russia to end the war or condemning Russia’s actions in Ukraine. Moreover, the organizations continue to hold meetings in an attempt to negotiate diplomatic solutions, such as the establishment of humanitarian corridors. Although the Austrian Foreign Ministry says it was unrelated to the war, Austria also expelled four Russian diplomats for “activities that have not been in accordance with their diplomatic status.”

Russian disinformation from diplomatic missions in Vienna continues

Despite the constant reminders of the war and all of the evidence showing that Russia is the aggressor, Russia continues to deny any wrongdoing, and its diplomatic missions in Vienna constantly post disinformation to try to convince people otherwise.

Most recently, the Permanent Mission of Russia to the OSCE tweeted a link to a message from the Russian Ministry of Defense about the establishment of humanitarian corridors for the Ukrainian civilians stuck underground with Ukrainian soldiers at the Azovstal Steel Works in the besieged city of Mariupol.

In the Facebook post, the Russian Defense Ministry claims that a humanitarian corridor remains open for these people to safely leave the steel plant. The post accuses the Ukrainian soldiers of holding the civilians as “human shields.” Russia claims that it is the Ukrainian military and not Russia’s brutal siege of Mariupol that has prevented these civilians from leaving the city safely.

Russia’s absolute destruction of the city of Mariupol has been widely documented, and there have even been reports of satellite images showing what are believed to be mass graves. The Ukrainian civilians and soldiers the Russian statement is referring to have been reported to be taking shelter from Russian attacks in the tunnels under the steel plant. There has been no evidence to support Russia’s claim that Ukrainian soldiers are using the civilians as human shields. On the contrary, the soldiers are reported to be sheltering with and defending the civilians. Despite Russia’s claims of humanitarian corridors being opened, Russia has previously been accused of purposely targeting what were supposed to be escape corridors. Additionally, the ORF reported attacks on the steel plant as recently as April 24, and thus the Ukrainians remain skeptical of Russia’s ceasefire claims. It remains to be seen as to whether Russian forces will actually make good on this most recent ceasefire declaration or will continue attacking the plant as they have done in the past.

In another post on Twitter, the Russian Mission to the OSCE claimed that the OSCE’s Special Monitoring Mission (SMM) to Ukraine was involved in a military confrontation and that the SMM vehicles had been taken by Ukrainian militants. The Russian Mission accuses the OSCE Secretariat and Chairmanship of “remaining silent on this issue.”

Contrary to Russia’s claim, Kurier and other sources have reported that Russian forces have detained OSCE SMM staff members. In fact, the OSCE Chairman-in-Office, Zbigniew Rau, and OSCE Secretary General Helga Maria Schmid put out an official statement confirming that staff had been detained by the Russian military and called for their immediate release.

Some refugees return home, but humanitarian crisis far from over

The war in Ukraine is evolving as Russia has moved its focus away from Kyiv to Eastern and Southern Ukraine. With parts of Western and Northern Ukraine considered to be relatively safe for the time being, some refugees have reportedly even started returning home.

However, Russian brutality continues, and there is increasing evidence of war crimes, crimes against humanity, and even genocide by the Russian military.

As mentioned above, despite some refugees returning to parts of Ukraine, Austria’s Refugee Coordinator Michael Takacs believes that the number of refugees in Austria will likely increase as Russia escalates its assault in the East and South.

With over 12 million people already displaced and no diplomatic end in sight, the consequences of President Putin’s inhumane war and humanitarian disaster are evident in Vienna and around the globe.

United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR)

Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE)

Austrian Interior Ministry

Upper Austria

Vienna Online


Mediendienst Integration

Asylkoordination Österreich


Der Standard