Is this a long-term downturn or just a respite in the midst of the war?
Despite the fact that the number of migrants fleeing Ukraine has surpassed 4 million, fewer individuals have crossed the border in recent days. Russia’s unexpected war on Ukraine, according to border guards, humanitarian groups, and refugees themselves, shows little signs of a respite or a lasting drop-off.
Some Ukrainians are fighting or assisting in the defense of their nation. Others have fled their houses but are remaining in other parts of Ukraine to watch how the war winds may blow. Others are elderly or disabled and require assistance in getting around. And some stay because “motherland is homeland,” as one exile put it.
About 2.5 million people in Ukraine’s pre-war population of 44 million fled the nation in the first two weeks following Russia’s invasion on Feb. 24 to flee the bombings and killings. The number of refugees was nearly half that in the second two weeks.
According to the latest number released Monday by UNHCR, the UN refugee agency, the overall departure currently stands at 3.87 million people. However, just 45,000 individuals entered Ukraine’s borders in the previous 24 hours, the smallest one-day tally yet, and numbers have not topped 50,000 for four of the last five days. On the other hand, on March 6 and 7, almost 200,000 individuals departed Ukraine every day.
“People who were resolved to flee when the war broke out departed in the early days,” said Anna Michalska, a Polish border guards spokesperson.
Even though the migration is slowing, its magnitude cannot be underestimated.
According to the UNHCR, the war has sparked Europe’s largest refugee crisis since World War II, with unprecedented speed and breadth of migrants fleeing to countries including as Poland, Romania, Moldova, Hungary, Slovakia, and Russia. Poland has taken in 2.3 million refugees alone, while Romania has taken in around 600,000. The United States has pledged to accept 100,000 refugees.
Even Syria’s catastrophic 11-year civil war, which has resulted in the world’s worst refugee crisis, did not cause as many people to flee as quickly.
“We want to see a decline in the number of newcomers.” But, according to Alex Mundt, UNHCR’s senior emergency coordinator in Poland, “I don’t think there’s any assurance of that until there’s a political solution” to the war.
According to the International Organization for Migration, more than 6.5 million people in Ukraine have been displaced by the Russian invasion but remain inside the country, implying that there is still a big pool of prospective refugees. Another 12 million people are estimated to be stranded or unwilling to leave areas where conflict has been strong, according to the IOM.
“Unfortunately, many people are unable to flee, either because transit routes have been blocked off or because they simply do not have the means to reach safety in neighboring countries,” IOM spokesman Jorge Galindo told The Associated Press in Medyka, Poland.
Efforts by Jewish organizations to get ailing Holocaust survivors out of Ukraine have begun, but each person will require a team of rescue professionals.
“I’m too elderly now to dash to the bunker.” So I simply stayed in my flat and prayed that the bombs wouldn’t kill me,” said Tatyana Zhuravliova, an 83-year-old Holocaust survivor who was recently transferred to a nursing facility in Germany.
Many Ukrainians who have already evacuated have left the districts most affected by the fighting, according to Michalska, a Polish border guard spokesperson, and future fights may determine if citizens in other areas opt to flee.
“We can’t rule out the possibility of further refugee waves in the future,” Michalska added over the phone.
Aid organizations are continuing their work, assisting those who have already fled Ukraine and preparing for additional influxes of migrants.
Shopping carts loaded with baggage still rattle along a narrow road leading from passport check to buses waiting to transport Ukrainian migrants to a neighbouring town at the border station in Medyka, Poland.
“Perhaps people are waiting to see if their city will be attacked or not,” said Alina Beskrovna, 31, who escaped Mariupol, a destroyed and besieged city in the southeast. She and her mother fled the city five days ago, but they had to pass through 18 checkpoints to get to the border: 16 Russian and two Ukrainian.
She hinted to additional Russian bombings near Ukraine’s western city of Lviv over the weekend, which has been a significant shelter for Ukrainians escaping Russian President Vladimir Putin’s invasion.
“Putin is a highly unpredictably unpredictable person.” And, based on what occurred in Lviv two days ago, I believe it will continue in my region and in Ukraine,” she continued. “It’ll go even further, so the globe should brace itself for additional waves.”
“It is not getting any better – absolutely not,” Oksana Mironova, a 35-year-old Kyiv immigrant, said. We’d like to believe things would get better, but we have no choice except to flee.”
Despite Russian bombings that have destroyed residential complexes, commercial malls, and schools, the desire to return home remains strong.
Olena Vorontsova, 50, escaped Kyiv, Ukraine’s capital.
“Many people just do not want to leave their homes,” she explained, “because homeland is homeland.”