UN says 1.5 million people have fled fighting in Ukraine

Fears that more than 4 million will eventually flee Russia-Ukraine war

Police manage people as they wait to board a bus, at a temporary accommodation centre, after fleeing the Russian invasion of Ukraine, in Korczowa, Poland, March 6, 2022.  REUTERS / Yara Nardi
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The number of people who have fled Ukraine since Russia's incursion has reached 1.5 million, the head of the UN's refugee agency said on Sunday.

Filippo Grandi used a Twitter post to announce the milestone in the fastest growing crisis in Europe for more than seven decades.

A daily update on the unfolding humanitarian crisis showed most crossing Ukraine's borders had sought refuge in Poland.

Out of the total of 1,369,000 refugees recorded as of noon Central European Time on Saturday, about 756,000 had crossed into Poland.

More than 100,000 have arrived in each of Hungary, Moldova and Slovakia, while others have reached Romania and smaller numbers went to Russia or Belarus.

Many more are expected to follow them in escaping Ukraine, with the UN fearing that more than four million will eventually be forced out by the war.

The total represents about 3 per cent of Ukraine’s population.

“I have worked in refugee emergencies for almost 40 years, and rarely have I seen an exodus as rapid as this one,” Mr Grandi said last week.

“Hour by hour, minute by minute, more people are fleeing the terrifying reality of violence. Countless have been displaced inside the country.

“And unless there is an immediate end to the conflict, millions more are likely to be forced to flee Ukraine.”

As people leave Ukraine, those arriving in the EU — Poland, Slovak Republic, Hungary and Romania — can move about with relative freedom.

EU and national leaders have been keen to talk of open borders and welcoming the refugees.

Thousands of refugees from Ukraine take shelter inside a Polish hangar

Thousands of refugees from Ukraine take shelter inside a Polish hangar

But moving across the continent is not easy for refugees, particularly those who have left with few or no belongings and limited funds.

The EU is preparing to grant Ukrainians the right to stay and work in the 27-nation bloc for up to three years, reviving a law that has been unused since the aftermath of the collapse of Yugoslavia.

“It is our duty to take in those who flee war,” said French Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin.

Germany has said more than 5,000 have entered the country but the figure could be far higher. On the far west of the EU, Ireland has confirmed more than 100 arrivals.

Ylva Johansson, EU Commissioner for Home Affairs, said: “We are in a very, very dangerous situation with the developments in Ukraine. We have to prepare for millions of refugees to come to the European Union.”

Some businesses are helping. Hotel chains have offered free rooms, train companies have offered free rides and mobile phone giants are scrapping roaming charges for Ukrainian refugees.

For those arriving in Moldova, Belarus and Moscow-allied Russia, the options appear more limited.

Before the military action began, 96,000 moved into the Russian Federation from Donetsk and Luhansk, two pro-Russian regions that have been fighting Ukrainian rule and which Russia recognised as “independent” days before the war.

Updated: March 07, 2022, 10:14 AM