Number of refugees returning to Ukraine exceeds 700,000 despite war horrors

People desperate to 'reconnect with their families' but number leaving now approaching five million

Elea Serebriakova returning to her husband in Dnipro. Photo: Thomas Harding/The National
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The number of Ukrainian refugees returning to their country has passed 700,000 despite it being an “incredibly dangerous place for civilians”, officials have stated.

The main reason given is that people want to “reconnect with their families”, with thousands returning every day to Kyiv, in spite of the Russian bombardments.

During a visit to the Ukraine border on Friday, The National found civilians returning to their country who stated it was “better to die together” than suffer the anxiety of being apart.

But those fleeing the country still outnumber those returning, with almost 5 million refugees having fled Ukraine, according to the UN's refugee agency.

“It’s quite alarming that within the space of a few weeks we are approaching five million refugees from Ukraine,” said UNHCR spokeswoman Shabia Mantoo. “This is the fastest-growing and one of the largest refugee crises we are seeing in Europe since the Second World War.”

There are now 12 million people — more than a quarter of Ukraine’s 44 million population — who are either refugees or internally displaced, officials said.

This has led to a significant requirement for more food, drinking water, shelter, medicine and cash. “There also needs to be more support around mental health as the population has been traumatised,” a British official said.

The elderly and disabled need assistance too, as “they cannot move and they desperately need help as they are caught up in fighting”, he added.

“It is incredibly dangerous for those who remain and it is difficult to get convoys in. Three quarters have been successful.”

It is estimated that the number of people being supported by the World Food Programme will double from one million to two million within a week, he said.

According to figures released by the World Health Organisation on Tuesday there have been 132 attacks on health facilities, including 16 on ambulances, 24 on personnel and 12 on patients. At least two warehouses stockpiling medical aid have also been hit.

It also was reported that Russia might be deliberately using sexual violence against women to subjugate the population in areas it has occupied.

It was still unclear if this was the “policy of the Russian army or rogue soldiers” but “we need more evidence gathering”, the UK official said.

“Once the evidence is completed maybe we can say it was a policy but I don't think we're there yet. Only that human rights abuses and atrocities are happening.”

Updated: April 19, 2022, 5:41 PM