Russia’s attack on Ukraine is set to trigger “Europe’s biggest refugee crisis of this century” as more than 660,000 people have fled the fighting in the past six days.
According to the UN refugee agency, most women and children with “very little belongings” have left their homes in Ukraine for neighboring countries since Russia invaded on Thursday.
People are reportedly waiting up to 60 hours to enter Poland, while queues at the Romanian border are up to 20km long, Shabia Mantoo, spokeswoman for the UN refugee agency, said at a briefing in Geneva.
“Many who left with only their clothes on their backs and very few belongings will need international assistance,” UNHCR said on Tuesday.
Neighboring countries, and local communities in particular, are doing “everything” to welcome and support these refugees, “but they will need sustained and strong support in the coming weeks,” the agency said.
“UNHCR and other humanitarian organizations will only be able to assist Ukrainians displaced inside and outside Ukraine if we can be guaranteed safety and access and if we have the resources and support to do our work,” she added.
Filippo Grandi, UNHCR commissioner, said on Monday that the number of refugees had “increased exponentially”. He remarked that in his 40 years of work in refugee crises, “rarely has he seen such an incredibly rapid rate of exodus”.
Poland reported that a total of 350,000 refugees have crossed the border since Thursday, including 100,000 in the past 24 hours, Interior Minister Maciej Wasik told public broadcaster Polskie Radio 1.
According to Lora Lyubenova, a spokeswoman for the General Directorate of Border Police, more than 7,000 Ukrainians have entered Bulgaria since Russia invaded six days ago.
Germany said on Monday that 1,800 refugees had arrived from Ukraine in the past few days, while refugees were arriving in Italy and Greece.
Janez Lenarcic, Commissioner for Crisis Management at the EU’s Directorate-General for European Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid, said the war threatened to displace “millions of Ukrainians”.
“I call on the entire international donor community to also respond generously,” he added.