More than 500,000 refugees flee Ukraine since Russia went to war

The massive exodus of refugees from Ukraine to the European Union’s eastern border showed no signs of stopping on Monday as they fled Russia’s burgeoning war, with the UN estimating that more than 500 000 people have already escaped.

Long lines of cars and buses were blocked at border checkpoints in Poland, Hungary, Slovakia, Romania and non-EU Moldova. Others crossed borders on foot, dragging their belongings away from the war and into the safety of the EU.

Several hundred refugees have been rounded up at a temporary reception center in the Hungarian border village of Beregsurany, where they wait to be transported to transit centers that could take them further into Hungary and beyond.

Maria Pavlushko, 24, an IT project manager in Zhytomyr, a town about 100 kilometers (60 miles) west of the Ukrainian capital Kiev, said she was on a skiing holiday in the Carpathians when she heard from home last week that the Russian invasion had begun.

“I just wake up because my grandmother called me to tell me there was war in the city,” she said.

Pavlushko plans to travel from Hungary to Poland, where his mother lives. But her grandmother is still at home in Zhytomyr, she said, and her father stayed behind to join the fight against invading Russian forces.

“I’m proud of him,” she said. “A lot of my friends, a lot of young boys are going to… kill (the Russian soldiers).”

Many refugees at the Beregsurany reception centre, as in other Eastern European border areas, are from India, Nigeria and other African countries and were working or studying in Ukraine when the war broke out. bursts.

Masroor Ahmed, a 22-year-old Indian medical student studying in Ternopil in western Ukraine, came with 18 other Indian students to the Hungarian border. He said they hoped to reach the capital of Budapest, where the Indian government has organized an evacuation flight for its citizens.

Although Ternopil had not yet seen any violence during the war, he said, “it’s supposed to be. There might be bombings next hour, next month or next year. We’re not sure, that’s why we left this town.

Hungary has opened its borders to all refugees fleeing Ukraine, including third-country nationals who can prove their Ukrainian residency. The government has set up a “humanitarian corridor” to escort non-Ukrainian nationals from the border to airports in the city of Debrecen and the capital, Budapest.

The welcome Hungary now extends to Ukrainians is very different from the unwelcoming stance they have had towards refugees and migrants from the Middle East and Africa in recent years. Hungary built a wall to keep them out when a million people, including many Syrians fleeing war, arrived in Europe in 2015.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Filippo Grandi, tweeted on Monday that more than 500,000 refugees had fled Ukraine to neighboring countries.

Shabia Mantoo, a UNHCR spokeswoman, said the latest tally, which continues to rise, included 281,000 in Poland, over 84,500 in Hungary, around 36,400 in Moldova, over 32,500 in Romania and around 30,000 in Slovakia.

The rest were dispersed to other unidentified countries, she said.

In Poland, the country that has reported the most arrivals, trains continued to bring refugees to the border town of Przemysl on Monday. In winter coats to protect them from near-freezing temperatures, many carried small suitcases as they lined up on the platform to exit the station.

Natalia Pivniuk, a young Ukrainian from the western city of Lviv, described people hurrying and pushing to board the train as it prepared to leave for Poland, which she said was “very frightening and dangerous physically and mentally”.

“People get stressed, people get twisted and when people get scared they get selfish and forget about everything,” she said. “People are traumatized because they were on that train.”

Otoman Adel Abid, an Iraqi student, also fled Lviv after he said panic had broken out among many people in the city.

“Everyone ran to buy food and we heard bombs everywhere,” he told The Associated Press. “After that, we directly packed our bag, clothes and some documents and ran to the station.”

In the Romanian town of Siret on Monday, EU Home Affairs Commissioner Ylva Johansson visited a border crossing where thousands of refugees arrive from neighboring Ukraine as they flee the conflict with Russia.

Johansson, who visited some of the aid stations on the border, praised the “heartwarming” cooperation between volunteers and authorities, and said the EU is united “in a way we have never seen before”. .

“I am here today because I wanted to visit and see with my own eyes, speak directly to local authorities, local citizens, migrants about the situation and the challenges,” Johansson told media at the border.

She said it was “a very difficult period where we see war again in Europe, where we see aggression, the invasion of (Russian President Vladimir) Putin towards a neighboring sovereign country”.

Johansson, who will meet Romanian President Klaus Iohannis and Prime Minister Nicolae Ciuca later on Monday, said Europe “shows that we are based on other values ​​than Putin.”


Monika Scislowska in Warsaw, Poland, Stephen McGrath in Siret, Romania, and Jamey Keaten in Geneva, contributed to this report.

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