Vatican City, Dec 23, 2016 / 05:52 am (CNA/EWTN News).- After taking up a collection earlier this year to aid families affected by the ongoing crisis in Eastern Ukraine, Pope Francis has decided to distribute an initial sum of 6 million euros to different charity projects as a Christmas gift.

“In the name of the Holy Father, at Christmas the first installment of the aid for the humanitarian crisis in Ukraine will be paid,” a Dec. 23 communique from the Pontifical Council Cor Unum read. The sum of nearly 6 million euro is only part of the 12 million that’s been collected since April, and is destined for more than 2 million people “without distinction of religion, faith or ethnic background.” It will go to projects that assist people currently living in the regions of Donetsk and Lugansk, Kharkiv and Dnepropetrovsk, which have been hit hardest by the conflict.

The funds were raised in large part as the result of Pope Francis’ decision to take up an April 24 collection in all the Catholic parishes of Europe to promote humanitarian support for all those suffering or displaced due to the fighting in eastern Ukraine. After the collection, the Pope in June entrusted the Vatican’s charity council Cor Unum, with the task of forming a committee, which was given a year-long mandate, to decipher the most urgent needs and to get the help to where it’s most required.

Led by Bishop Jan Sobilo, auxiliary bishop of the Diocese of Kharkiv-Zaporizhia, the committee, headquartered in Zaporizhia, has been working alongside the Apostolic Nuncio in Ukraine, Archbishop Claudio Gugerotti. According to the communique, from the moment the committee began their work in July members have “chosen and evaluated the aid projects” presented to them by both Christian charity organizations and by international agencies.

Now, having made their decisions, the committee will use the funds to finance 20 “large-scale” projects with individual contributions of up to 250,000 euros, as well as 39 initiatives “of solidarity” for amounts of up to 20,000 euros. The total sum of 6 million, according to the communique will be distributed with the help of the apostolic nunciature in Ukraine and will support projects that offer assistance “in the areas of food, housing, medicine and hygiene.”

Conflict erupted in Ukraine in November 2013, when the former government refused to sign the Association Agreement with the European Union, leading to months of violent protests. Tensions deepened in February 2014, when the country’s former president was ousted following the protests, and a new government appointed. In March of that year, Ukraine’s eastern peninsula of Crimea was annexed by Russia, and pro-Russian separatists have since taken control of eastern portions of Ukraine. Several attempts at a ceasefire have fallen through, and fighting continues to ravage Ukraine’s eastern regions.

According to a recent report from the Office of the High Commissioner of the United Nations for Human Rights (OHCHR), from its beginning in April 2014 to December 2016, the conflict has so far caused 9,758 deaths and 22,779 wounded. More than 2 million others have been forced to flee due to violence and a lack of basic humanitarian necessities such as food and medicine. Those who have fled to other areas of the country often can’t find work or adequate housing, leaving them largely dependent on charity.