Ukrainians fleeing fighting arrive in Poland in record numbers

GENEVA/MEDYKA, Poland (REUTERS, AFP) – The number of people fleeing Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has topped 1.5 million, making it Europe’s fastest growing refugee crisis since World War II, the United Nations said on Sunday (March 6).

“More than 1.5 million refugees from Ukraine have crossed into neighbouring countries in 10 days,” the UN High Commissioner for Refugees tweeted.

The UN described the outflow as “the fastest growing refugee crisis in Europe since World War II”, having reported on Saturday that nearly 1.37 million refugees had fled.

UN officials said they expected the wave to intensify further as the Russian army pressed its offensive, particularly toward the capital Kyiv.

Since Russia invaded on February 24, a total of 922,400 people have fled Ukraine to Poland, Polish border guards said Sunday.

Hungary, Moldova, Romanian and Slovakia have also seen Ukrainian refugees arrive.

The World Health Organisation said meanwhile that signs of attacks on health centres in Ukraine were increasing, which it said amounts to a violation of medical neutrality and international humanitarian law.

Record numbers of refugees headed into Poland from Ukraine with the total number expected to surpass 1 million people later on Sunday (March 6) as Russian forces escalated their invasion.

Fresh data shows Polish border guards cleared as many as 129,000 people at border crossings on Saturday, the most in a single day since the war started, bringing the total to 922,400.

“Check-in is as simplified as possible,” Polish Border Guard spokeswoman Anna Michalska said. “The point is to confirm the identity of persons, verify documents, check the databases if they are not wanted persons. It takes a few minutes.”

“Forecasts indicate that today the number of people who entered Poland from Ukraine from February 24 will exceed one million.”

At the Medyka crossing, the busiest along Poland’s roughly 500km border with Ukraine, refugees streamed past boxes of clothes laid out along a path from the border crossing while Scouts handed out hot tea, food and toiletries.

Some carried babies, others dogs and cats wrapped in blankets. Many joined a queue for buses to the nearby town Przemysl where friends, relatives and volunteers waited to take them to other cities in Poland and beyond.

“In Kyiv there are many bombs and you sit in the basement and still hear it and because of that I left this city,” said Anna Klimova, 21, who was travelling to Wroclaw to stay with her brother. “It’s a really hard situation.”

Poland’s Ukrainian community of around 1.5 million is the region’s largest and makes the country a major destination point for refugees, though fleeing Ukrainians also cross to safety through Slovakia, Hungary and northern Romania.

The number of refugees fleeing Ukraine surpassed 1.5 million on Sunday according to the head of the UN refugee agency, as Kyiv pressed the West to toughen sanctions and deliver more weapons to repel Russia’s attack.

Ukrainian police said there was relentless Russian shelling and air raids in the northeast Kharkiv region, reporting many casualties, while the World Health Organisation said there had been several attacks on Ukrainian healthcare facilities.

Moscow maintains its invasion is a “special operation” to capture individuals it regards as dangerous nationalists and to counter what it views as Nato aggression, and has denied targeting civilians.

While men of conscription age are obliged to stay in Ukraine and help in the defence, mostly women and children have made the often harrowing journey to flee into the European Union.


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