Ukraine: One million refugees escape Russian bombs

One million people have fled Ukraine since the start of the Russian invasion a week ago, an exodus unprecedented in its speed this century, the United Nations refugee agency said on Thursday.

The count by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, UNHCR, indicated that these cross-border movements are equivalent to more than 2 percent of the population of Ukraine, which the World Bank indicated was 44 million people at the end of 2020.

The agency warned that this flow is far from subsiding: it predicted that up to 4 million people could leave the country, a figure that could be revised upwards.

“Our data indicates that we have passed the 1 million mark” at midnight in central Europe, based on counts by national authorities, UNHCR spokesman Joung-ah Ghedini-Williams said in an email.

For his part, the High Commissioner for Refugees, Filippo Grandi, acknowledged that “I have worked in refugee emergencies for almost 40 years, and rarely have I seen an exodus as fast as this one.

“Every hour, every minute, more people are fleeing the terrifying reality of violence. The displaced within the country are innumerable,” added Grandi, who was visiting Romania on Thursday, one of Ukraine’s neighbors that has received tens of thousands of refugees. “And unless there is an immediate end to the conflict, millions more are likely to be forced to flee Ukraine.”

great despair

On Twitter, Grandi called for the “weapons to be silent” so that humanitarian aid can reach the millions of people still in the country.

Grandi’s remarks were a testament to the desperation of Ukrainians as artillery fire, mortar shells and gunfire rang out across the country, as well as the growing concerns of other UN agencies such as the World Health Organization. Health or the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, which together with UNHCR launched a request for donations on Tuesday.

The daily figures echo the dizzying speed of the evacuation: after the departure of more than 82,000 people on the first day of the Russian invasion on February 24, every day since then the figure has increased by at least 117,000 people , peaking Tuesday at around 200,000, according to the latest UNHCR tally. Some of its most veteran workers, accustomed to dealing with refugee crises, say they have never seen an exodus like it.

So far, UN officials and others have generally praised the response of Ukraine’s neighboring countries, which have opened homes, gyms and other facilities to welcome the new arrivals.

At this rate, Ukraine could become “the biggest refugee crisis of this century,” UNHCR spokeswoman Shabia Mantoo said on Wednesday.

According to the latest figures published on the agency’s website, which as of early Thursday still showed a total of 934,000 refugees, more than half of them arrived in neighboring Poland – more than 505,000 – while another 116,000 went to Hungary, In the south. Moldova has received more than 79,000 Ukrainians and another 71,200 crossed the border with Slovakia.