Almost 400,000 refugees fled Ukraine, number rising, says UN agency

Ukraine’s health minister reported Saturday that 198 people, including three children, had been killed and more than 1,000 others wounded.

By Associated Press and World Israel News Staff

Dragging suitcases and carrying children, tens of thousands of Ukrainians rushed to the borders Saturday as invading Russian troops pressed on with their march toward Ukraine’s capital of Kyiv.

More than 368,000 people have fled Ukraine since the Russian invasion on Thursday, the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) said in a tweet Sunday.

“The current total is now 368,000 and continues to rise,” the agency said.

The refugees fled to Poland and other neighboring countries, the UNHCR said.

Some walked many miles through the night while others fled by train, car or bus, forming lines miles long at border crossings. They were greeted by waiting relatives and friends or headed on their own to reception centers organized by neighboring governments.

“The numbers and the situation is changing minute by minute,” said Joung-ah Ghedini-Williams, a spokeswoman for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees.

Those arriving in Poland were mostly women, children and the elderly after Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy banned men of military age from 18 to 60 from leaving. Some Ukrainian men were heading back into Ukraine from Poland to take up arms against the Russian forces.

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Russia’s unprovoked attack on the Western-looking democracy has ignited a huge outpouring of support for the fleeing Ukrainians, including an unconditional welcome from nations like Poland and Hungary.

Regular people were also opening up their homes to refugees and volunteering at welcome centers. In Poland, a Facebook page was formed where people were offered rides in private cars from the border and other help.

Volunteers even came from elsewhere in Europe to pick up refugees, among them a German couple from Hamburg who held up a sign at the Polish border town of Medyka saying they could take three people home with them.

“Our country is not doing anything, and we felt we needed to do something,” said Tanja Schwarz, 51.

Despite the goodwill, the crush of people became a very real ordeal.

Jeremy Myers, from Manchester, England, was on vacation in Ukraine with his Ukrainian girlfriend when the war started. They fled Kyiv and waited 23 hours in a fenced-off area where there was no food or water and which was controlled by armed guards on the Ukrainian side.

He witnessed people fighting, getting crushed and a woman who fainted.

“We saw several people get injured, there were no toilets, there was no medical assistance,” he said. “You had to stand where you were because if you didn’t you lost your place in line.”

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One family from Chernivtsi in western Ukraine waited 20 hours before being able to cross the border into Siret in northern Romania. Natalia Murinik, 14, cried as she described saying goodbye to grandparents who couldn’t leave the country.

“It really hurt, I want to go home,” she said.

The largest numbers were arriving in Poland, where 2 million Ukrainians have already settled to work in recent years, driven away by Russia’s first incursion into Ukraine when it annexed Crimea in 2014 and seeking opportunities in the booming economy of the European Union neighbor.

Poland declared its border open to fleeing Ukrainians, even for those without official documents, and dropped its requirement to show a negative COVID-19 test.

The line of vehicles waiting to enter Poland at Medyka stretched many miles into Ukraine.

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban traveled to the border town of Beregsurany, where he said Hungary was accepting all citizens and legal residents of Ukraine.

“We’re letting everyone in,” Orban said.