The number of Ukrainian refugees fleeing the country after the Russian invasion approached three million on Tuesday, the United Nations said.
Data from the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) suggests about 2.95 million people have left Ukraine thus far. The UNHCR is basing its aid plans on four million refugees — but the figure will likely increase.
Ukrainian refugees flee Russian invasion
After Sunday’s Russian strike on the Yavoriv military base near Lviv, some people from western Ukraine have now joined the refugee flow across the border.
“Everybody considered West Ukraine to be quite safe until they started striking Lviv,” said Zhanna, a mother from Kharkiv, who was heading to Poland to reunite with her godmother who left Ukraine a few days earlier, in an interview with Reuters. “We wanted to stay there. We did not want to go abroad.”
“We left Kharkiv for Kirovohrad,” Zhanna said. “Then they started striking Kirovohrad, they started striking Lviv — and it is complicated to avoid bombs with a small child.”
Most Ukrainian refugees are in countries bordering Ukraine — Poland, Slovakia, Hungary, Romania, and Moldova — with over half of them, or 1.8 million, in Poland alone. A significant number of refugees, however, are starting to move further west, with 300,000 individuals having gone so far to Western Europe, the UNHCR said on Tuesday.
“If we really show the best sides of ourselves in solidarity, we can manage,” the European Union’s top migration official, Ylva Johansson, said in Brussels. Johansson’s comments echoed Germany’s then-chancellor, Angela Merkel, at the height of Europe’s previous major influx of refugees in 2015-16, who said “Wir schaffen das” (“We can manage this”).
“I want to live in Ukraine but I can’t”
In Romania, Ukrainian women and children, with some refugees clutching teddy bears, continued to stream through the Siret border crossing where temperatures dropped to 28 degrees Fahrenheit overnight.
Pulling suitcases and carrying backpacks, they were met by Romanian firefighters and volunteers, who carried their belongings to buses transporting them onward.
Further south, in Isaccea, at a busy border crossing on the Danube, a refugee called Tanya, from Mykolaiv in southern Ukraine, said she was fleeing to save her child’s life in an interview with Reuters. “On the way here I cried because I love my country; I want to live in Ukraine but I can’t because they are destroying everything now.”
In Moldova, one of Europe’s poorest countries, some refugees were returning home to Ukraine, either to fetch more belongings or hoping to return for good.
Liudmila, who did not give her last name during an interview with Reuters, was going back to Ukraine to fetch school supplies for her children in Moldova’s capital Chisinau. “On Monday, they began learning online and that’s why I should take some things for them — books, for writing.”
The UNHCR says those fleeing the conflict often had resources and contacts outside Ukraine, but now many of the refugees had left in a hurry and were more vulnerable. “We see a lot of elderly people and a lot of persons with disabilities, really people who were expecting and hoping until the last moment that the situation would change,” said Tatiana Chabac, an aid worker with the UNHCR, in an interview with Reuters.
Russia denies targeting civilians, describing its actions as a “special military operation” to demilitarize and “denazify” Ukraine, but the West says that’s a baseless pretext for Russia’s invasion.