The U.N. refugee agency said Thursday that 1 million people have now fled Ukraine since Russia’s invasion less than a week ago, an exodus without precedent in this century for its speed.
The tally from the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees amounts to more than 2% of Ukraine’s population — which the World Bank counted at 44 million at the end of 2020 — on the move across borders in just seven days. The agency cautions that the outflows are far from finished: It has predicted that as many as 4 million people could eventually leave Ukraine, and even that projection could be revised upward.
In an email, UNHCR spokeswoman Joung-ah Ghedini-Williams wrote, “Our data indicates we passed the 1M mark” as of midnight in central Europe, based on counts collected by national authorities.
On Twitter, U.N. High Commissioner Filippo Grandi wrote, “In just seven days we have witnessed the exodus of one million refugees from Ukraine to neighboring countries.”
Grandi appealed for the “guns to fall silent” in Ukraine so humanitarian aid can reach millions more still inside Ukraine.
Such comments testified to the growing concerns across the U.N. system, with agencies like the World Health Organization and the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs — which launched an appeal for funds with UNHCR on Tuesday — voicing their worry.
Syria, whose civil war erupted in 2011, remains the country with the largest refugee outflows — nearly 5.7 million people, according to UNHCR figures. But even at the swiftest rate of flight out of that country, in early 2013, it took at least three months for 1 million refugees to leave Syria.
Two years later, in 2015, hundreds of thousands of Syrian and other refugees who had mostly been in Turkey fled into Europe, prompting disarray in the European Union over its response and at times skirmishes and pushbacks at some national borders.
So far, U.N. officials and others have generally praised the response from Ukraine’s neighbors, who have opened homes, gymnasiums and other facilities to take in the new refugees.
UNHCR spokeswoman Shabia Mantoo said Wednesday that “at this rate” the outflows from Ukraine could make it the source of “the biggest refugee crisis this century.”
While many of those fleeing are able-bodied adults, some are among society’s most vulnerable, unable to make the decision on their own to flee and requiring careful assistance to make the journey to safety.
At the train station in the Hungarian town of Zahony on Wednesday, more than 200 Ukrainians with disabilities — residents of two care homes in Ukraine’s capital of Kyiv — disembarked into the cold wind of the train platform after an arduous escape from the violence gripping Ukraine.
The refugees, many of them children, have serious mental and physical disabilities, and were evacuated from their care facilities once the Russian assault on the capital intensified.
“These children need a lot of attention, they have illnesses and require special care,” said Larissa Leonidovna, the director of the Svyatoshinksy orphanage in Kyiv.
Cold weather gripping Eastern Europe on Wednesday made conditions even harder for those fleeing into countries neighboring Ukraine.
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