1 Million People Have Fled Ukraine Since Russian Invasion, U.N. Says

(GENEVA, Switzerland) — 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. However, the agency warns that outflows could continue. It predicted as high as 4,000,000 people leaving Ukraine by 2020. Even that prediction could change upwards.
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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 the country.

Grandi’s comments testified to the desperation of Ukrainians as artillery fire, exploding mortar shells and gunfire echoed across the country, and the growing concerns across the U.N. system at 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.

According to UNHCR, Tuesday was the highest day for refugees at nearly 200,000. Some longtime staffers accustomed to dealing with refugee crises said they’d never seen anything like this exodus.

Syria, whose civil war erupted in 2011, remains the country with the largest refugee outflows — nearly 5.7 million people, according to UNHCR’s figures. Even though the country has seen the fastest flow of refugees, it still took three months to evacuate 1,000,000 Syrians in 2013.

In 2015, thousands fled Syria and other refugee groups from Turkey to Europe two years later. This sparked disarray at the European Union’s response, and sometimes skirmishes or pushbacks at 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.”

According to the latest figures on UNHCR’s online data portal, which still showed 934,000 refugees early Thursday, more than half of the refugees from Ukraine had gone to neighboring Poland — over 505,000 — and more than 116,000 had gone to Hungary to the south. More than 79,000 refugees had been taken in by Moldova, while 71.200 were sent to Slovakia.

Ghedini Williams said that while the statistics on the portal represent a count of European arrivals in the afternoon, Ghedini Williams indicated that additional arrivals were possible throughout the day.


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