Thousands of Ukrainians are fleeing war with Russia and started arriving into neighboring countries, mainly Moldova and Romania, while an estimated 100,000 have fled their homes and are uprooted in the country after the invasion, the UN refugee agency said Thursday.
The countries on the European Union’s eastern flank, once part of the Moscow-led Warsaw Pact and now members of NATO, are bracing for many more Ukrainians, setting up reception points and sending troops towards the borders to provide assistance.
Among them, Poland, Hungary, Slovakia and Romania all share land borders with Ukraine.
‘If Russia continues down this path, it could, according to our estimates, create a new refugee crisis – one of the largest facing the world today – with as many as five million more people displaced by Russia’s war of choice and putting pressure on Ukraine’s neighbors,’ US Ambassador to the United Nation Linda Thomas-Greenfield warned Wednesday.
Russia has launched an all-out invasion of Ukraine by land, air and sea, the biggest attack by one state against another in Europe since World War Two, fueling fears of a massive flood of refugees fleeing Ukraine, a nation of 44 million people.
At least 68 people were killed and 169 were wounded on Thursday, Ukraine’s health minister said, while the interior ministry said 13 border guards died when a Russian vessel shelled Ukraine’s Zmiinyi Island, south of the Black Sea port of Odessa.
Groups of people fled into Hungary via the Beregsurany and Tiszabecs crossings, some coming from as far as Kyiv, an eyewitness said. Some arrived by car but many pedestrians were also hauling suitcases across.
The highway heading west out of Kyiv, home to 3 million people, was choked with traffic across five lanes as residents sought to escape, fearful of bombs while stuck in their cars.
At the usually quiet border crossing at Medyka in southern Poland, dozens arrived from Ukraine on foot on Thursday morning, carrying luggage. A line of cars waiting for passage grew longer during the course of the day.
To facilitate border crossings, Poland lifted quarantine rules on Thursday for people arriving from outside the EU without a lab-certified negative COVID-19 test.
Czech President Milos Zeman, long sympathetic to Moscow, called Russian President Vladimir Putin a ‘madman.’ Prague stopped issuing visas to Russians and ordered the closure of two Russian consulates.
Several hundred people also left Ukraine from a sliver of its territory sandwiched between Moldova and the Black Sea, crossing into Romania by ferry over the Danube river, local authorities said.
The Czech Republic, which does not border Ukraine but is home to 260,000 Ukrainians, also said it was ready to help refugees. Czech Railways offered rail cars with 6,000 seats and beds to help evacuate people if necessary.