Ever since Russia’s covert invasion of eastern Ukraine last year turned the Donbas into a war zone, millions of Ukrainians have fled their homes in search of shelter and safety. The vast majority of those displaced have decided to remain in Ukraine, but now find themselves strangers in their own country. Uprooted from their communities, living in temporary shelters or basements far away from home, and lacking employment opportunities and social benefits, these internally displaced persons (IDPs) pose an immense challenge to a beleaguered Ukrainian state.

The plight of refugees has captured the world’s attention in recent months, as waves of Syrian refugees arrive in Europe. Even as the Syrian crisis draws headlines; however, another conflict-driven displacement crisis on Europe’s doorstep has gone virtually unnoticed—namely, the one currently unfolding in Ukraine.

Ever since Russia’s covert invasion of eastern Ukraine last year turned the Donbas into a war zone, millions of Ukrainians have fled their homes in search of shelter and safety. The vast majority of those displaced have decided to remain in Ukraine, but now find themselves strangers in their own country. Uprooted from their communities, living in temporary shelters or basements far away from home, and lacking employment opportunities and social benefits, these internally displaced persons (IDPs) pose an immense challenge to a beleaguered Ukrainian state.

According to current figures, there are over 1.4 million IDPs within Ukraine. In reality, that number is an underestimate: it only includes those officially registered with the state’s Ministry of Social Policy, and omits citizens who are displaced within the rebel-controlled regions of Donetsk and Luhansk. Those that do obtain IDP status are entitled to benefits from state and humanitarian groups, including a small monthly stipend and assistance with finding housing.  However, the registration process itself has been riddled with bureaucratic problems that often jeopardize this assistance. Some applicants have been denied IDP status because they did not flee far enough, to a different administrative area. Others were forced to reapply in April after months of receiving stipends, leaving them without any aid at all in the meantime.

Despite sincere efforts, the Ukrainian government’s record at addressing the problem has been mixed and often varies from region to region. In Kharkiv Oblast—an industrial region bordering the Donbass and now a temporary home to about 186,000 IDPs—the government has productively deployed this new manpower toward assembling weapons and tanks for its war effort. The situation in the western region of Lviv, by contrast, is more typical. Although only 10,000 IDPs have fled to Lviv, the government has now run out of adequate shelter, let alone productive job opportunities. Wasyl Gelbych, who heads Lviv’s Department of Social Protection, bluntly admitted the problem in June, saying that Lviv could no longer house anyone but those with extreme needs, such as the disabled and mothers with many children. The housing that is available largely consists of neglected, structurally unsafe homes in remote regions.

Gelbych blamed President Petro Poroshenko for his lack of a strategy toward displaced persons, which points to another side-effect of the IDP crisis: public resentment toward the government in Kyiv. According to a July 2015 poll by the International Republican Institute, only 24% of Ukrainians approve of Poroshenko’s job performance. Confidence in Ukraine’s Cabinet of Ministers and Parliament is even lower, at 11% and 10%, respectively. There are many reasons for this lack of confidence in the government, but ineffective policies toward IDPs are certainly one factor. 92% of Ukrainians believe that the government should help displaced persons, and the consensus is that the state is not doing nearly enough.

As a result, private humanitarian organizations and intergovernmental bodies have stepped up to fill in the gaps. The United Nations High Commission on Refugees (UNHCR) has taken the lead, working with a host of partners on the ground to provide food, shelter, employment consultation, medical assistance, documentation, and other needs to IDP populations. These efforts have been assisted by local civil society initiatives such as Donbass SOS, a Kiev-based NGO with a broad mandate to assist the civilian population of eastern Ukraine.

Despite this broad coalition of willing actors, a number of factors have impeded effective action on IDPs. First, there is bureaucratic dysfunction within Kiev, which has lagged in establishing a coordinated policy. The government makes use of an Interdepartmental Coordination Staff to strategize across departments, with the Ministry of Social Policy implementing the bulk of the policy, but there is no single point person advocating for IDPs within the government.

 A second issue is lack of funding. Although the Ukrainian government has allocated 3.4 billion hryvnia for monthly cash assistance to IDPs, in practice this amount comes up far short of families’ needs. Other organizations cannot always fill the gap in funding. The UNHCR has requested $41.5 million for its 2015 operation in Ukraine, but as of early September only $23.1 million had been raised—a 44% shortfall.

One final, intractable, obstacle to assisting IDPs is the continued separatist control over Donetsk and Luhansk. The same factor that caused the crisis in the first place continues to exacerbate its worst effects. Civilians in the non-government controlled areas lack access to social services from the state, but rebel leaders have made the situation even worse by impeding the movement of humanitarian groups into their self-proclaimed “peoples’ republics.” De facto border authorities have periodically prohibited aid convoys from respected international groups like the Red Cross, and refuse to admit any aid from Kiev. Russia, on the other hand, has consistently been allowed to send humanitarian aid convoys, which are largely assumed to be a cover for weapons shipments to the rebels. As a result, the fighting rages on but civilians in Donetsk and Luhansk live in dire conditions, suffering critical shortages of clean water and medical supplies. Under this status quo, civilians within the Donbass are cut off from humanitarian aid, while those displaced in other parts of Ukraine have little incentive to return home.

Ukraine has recently shown signs of progress on other fronts, as a shaky ceasefire is finally holding, a debt restructuring deal has been approved by Parliament, and anti-corruption reforms are being implemented from Kiev. For all these positive developments; however, the massive displacement crisis is a reminder of the long-term challenges Ukraine faces in reasserting control over its borders, and taking care of its citizens within them.