Saturday, December 10, 2022

Ukraine refugees nearly 4 million. Will exodus slow down?

MEDYKA, Poland ( Associated Press) – a slowdown for good or a temporary silence during the storm of war?

While the number of refugees flowing out of Ukraine is close to 4 million, fewer people have crossed the border in recent days. Border guards, aid agencies and refugees say Russia’s unpredictable war against Ukraine offers few signs whether it’s just a pause or a permanent download.

Some Ukrainians stick it out to fight or help defend their country. Others have left their homes but are staying elsewhere in Ukraine to wait and see how the winds of war will blow. Still others are elderly or infirm and need extra help to relocate. And some remain, as one refugee put it, because “homeland is homeland.”

In the first two weeks after Russia’s invasion on February 24, some 2.5 million people in Ukraine’s pre-war population of 44 million left the country to avoid the bombings and bloodshed. In the second two weeks, the number of refugees was about half that.

The total exodus now stands at 3.87 million, according to the latest score announced by UNHCR, the UN refugee agency, on Monday. But in the previous 24 hours, only 45,000 people crossed Ukraine’s borders to seek safety, the slowest one – day count yet, and for four of the last five days, the numbers did not exceed 50,000 a day. In contrast, on March 6 and 7, more than 200,000 people a day left Ukraine.

“People who were determined to leave when war broke out fled in the early days,” explained Anna Michalska, a spokeswoman for the Polish border guards.

Even though the exodus is easing, its extent is not underestimated.

UNHCR says the war has unleashed Europe’s worst refugee crisis since World War II, and the speed and breadth of refugees fleeing to countries such as Poland, Romania, Moldova, Hungary, Slovakia – as well as Russia – has been unprecedented in recent times. Poland alone took in 2.3 million refugees and Romania nearly 600,000. The United States has promised to take in 100,000.

Even the devastating 11-year war in Syria, the source of the world’s biggest refugee crisis, did not drive out so many people so quickly.

“We hope that the trend of new arrivals will decrease. But I do not think there is any guarantee for that until there is a political solution to the war, “said Alex Mundt, UNHCR’s senior emergency coordinator in Poland.

The International Organization for Migration has also estimated that more than 6.5 million people in Ukraine have been displaced from their homes by the Russian invasion but are still displaced within the country, indicating that a large pool of potential refugees is still waiting. IOM said another 12 million people were apparently trapped in places where fighting was fierce, or did not want to leave.

“Unfortunately, there are many people who are unable to leave, either because transport routes have been cut off or because they simply do not have the means to get to safety in neighboring countries,” JOM Galindo, IOM spokesperson, told The Associated Press. in Medyka, a Polish border town.

Jewish groups begin an effort to bring down weakened Holocaust survivors from Ukraine, but each person needs a team of rescue workers to withdraw such refugees.

“Now I am too old to run to the bunker. So I just stayed in my apartment and prayed that the bombs would not kill me, “said 83-year-old Holocaust survivor Tatyana Zhuravliova, a retired doctor who was moved to a nursing home in Germany last week.

Michalska, the Polish border guard spokeswoman, suggested that many Ukrainians who had already fled had left the areas most affected by the fighting, and future fights could determine whether civilians in other areas decided to leave.

“We can not rule out that there will be more waves of refugees in the future,” Michalska said by telephone.

Aid agencies do not give up in their efforts, help those who have already come from Ukraine and prepare for in case of new influx of refugees arrive.

At the border post in Medyka, Poland, shopping trolleys full of luggage still rattle on a small path leading from passport control, through a village of auxiliary tents to buses waiting to transport Ukrainian refugees to a nearby town.

“Maybe people are waiting to see if their city will be attacked or not,” said Alina Beskrovna, 31, who fled the devastated, besieged southeastern city of Mariupol. She and her mother left the city five days ago, but even to reach the border, they had to cross 18 checkpoints: 16 Russian and two Ukrainian.

She referred to new Russian airstrikes over the weekend near Ukraine’s western city of Lviv, which was a major refuge for Ukrainians fleeing after the invasion ordered by Russian President Vladimir Putin.

“Putin is very unpredictable. “Judging by what happened in Lviv two days ago, I think it will not stop in my region, it will not stop in Ukraine,” she said. “It will go further, so the world must prepare for more waves to come.”

Oksana Mironova, a 35-year-old refugee from Kiev, said: “It is not getting better – definitely not. We would like to believe it will improve, but unfortunately we have to escape.”

But even in the face of Russian airstrikes that wipe out apartment buildings, shopping malls and schools, the attractiveness of the home remains strong.

Olena Vorontsova, 50, fled the capital, Kiev.

“Many people just do not want to leave their homes, because homeland is homeland,” she said.


Chains reported from Geneva. Bassam Hatoum in Medyka, Monika Scislowska in Warsaw, Poland, and Kirsten Grieshaber in Berlin contributed to this report.


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