Home International Russian attacks in western Ukraine prompt more people to flee

Russian attacks in western Ukraine prompt more people to flee

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People fleeing what until recently had been the relative safety of western Ukraine joined thousands crossing into eastern Europe on Monday after Russia stepped up attacks, prompting fears of an even larger exodus.

Local residents are evacuated from a damaged residential area during the Ukraine-Russia conflict in the separatist-controlled town of Volnovakha in the Donetsk region, Ukraine. Picture: Reuters/Alexander Ermochenko

By Mari Saito and Fedja Grulovic

KRAKOW, Poland/ISACCEA, Romania – People fleeing what until recently had been the relative safety of western Ukraine joined thousands crossing into eastern Europe on Monday after Russia stepped up attacks, prompting fears of an even larger exodus.

Moscow widened its assault on Sunday with an attack on a base near the border with Nato member Poland. Ukraine said 35 people were killed at the base while Moscow said up to 180 “foreign mercenaries” died and a large number of foreign weapons were destroyed. Ukraine also reported renewed air strikes on an airport in the west of the country.

With the war well into its third week, the number of refugees fleeing the Russian invasion has already reached 2.7 million, the UN data showed, in what has become Europe’s fastest growing refugee crisis since World War Two.

However, millions of people have also been displaced inside Ukraine, with many evacuated only as far as the western regions, including to cities like Lviv.

Myroslava, 52, fled her home in the Ternopil region, in western Ukraine, and was waiting in a terminal of Krakow station in Poland to be picked by up acquaintances. She did not know where she would go to stay.

“We left because of the attack yesterday,” she said, adding that she had hoped western Ukraine would be safe for the time being. “We weren’t planning to leave, but as it was so close we decided to.”

Mira from Kyiv, who was traveling with her mother to Warsaw, said she had been surprised by the Russian attack near Lviv. “I just panicked and felt scared,” she said. “I had to calm myself down because we need to keep moving.”

DIPLOMATIC PUSH

Meanwhile, battles dragged on around many of Ukraine’s main cities, including the capital Kyiv, though some progress had been made in funnelling civilians away from the fighting with Ukraine saying it would try to evacuate through 10 humanitarian corridors on Monday.

Russia denies targeting civilians, describing its actions as a “special operation” to demilitarise and “de-Nazify” Ukraine. Ukraine and Western allies call this a baseless pretext for a war of choice.

“Houses were blown up,” Alena Kasinyska, a refugee from the hard-hit town of Mykolaiv, in southern Ukraine, said after crossing into Romania at Isaccea, a busy border crossing in the Danube delta. “People have no place to live, we are scared.”

A glimmer of hope came after Ukrainian and Russian negotiators in talks to end the conflict cited progress over the weekend.

After several inconclusive meetings, officials of suggested there could be positive results within days ahead of the talks, which where due to begin on Monday.

Authorities and volunteers across central and eastern Europe have spent the weeks since the invasion began on February 24 scrambling to provide food, accommodation and medical aid to the many thousands of refugees pouring across their borders.

Front-line states such as Poland, which has welcomed well over half of the total number of fleeing, and Slovakia, Romania, Hungary and Moldova, have taken in the vast majority of the refugees, some of which have then headed on further west.

Poland’s border guard said about 1.76 million people had entered the country since the fighting started, with 18,400 arriving during the early hours of Monday alone.

“We estimate that for sure over 1 million Ukrainians have remained in Poland and we must do everything to ensure their safety,” Polish Deputy Minister of Internal Affairs Pawel Szefernaker told private television channel TVN24.

Sympathy over the plight of their neighbours and deep-set memories of Moscow’s dominance has seen a groundswell of volunteer efforts, but the sheer scale of the refugee crisis has also sparked worries of being overwhelmed.

Some countries further away from Ukraine’s borders, such as the Czech Republic, have also taken in tens of thousands of refugees, piling pressure on local authorities, while others, like Lithuania, have only just begun to receive significant numbers.

– REUTERS

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