Three million people have now fled war in Ukraine, says UN

Exodus is largest seen in Europe since Second World War, refugee agency chief says

Inside Moldova's refugee camp at Palanka border as 250,000 enter country from Ukraine

More than three million people have now fled Ukraine since Vladimir Putin’s war began, according to the United Nations.

Figures from the UN refugee agency (UNHCR), mainly comprised of border agency data, showed that at least 3,000,381 people had left the country in the 20 days since Russia’s invasion of its sovereign neighbour began.

In the first days of the war, refugee agencies warned they were bracing for as many as 4 million people to leave Ukraine. But this figure is likely to be revised upwards – with western officials warning last week that this grim forecast could be realised within days.

The exodus seen in Ukraine is the largest in Europe since the Second World War, UN refugee agency chief Filippo Grandi said on Saturday.

But western officials have warned that “these are unprecedented movements of people in Europe, or indeed probably anywhere else in the world”.

According to the UN Human Rights Council, the Syrian civil war – the world’s largest refugee crisis for decades – has left 6.6 million people scattered across the globe, many of them housed in neighbouring countries, and left 13.4 million people in need of humanitarian and protection assistance in Syria.

Following a UNHCR briefing, western officials said last week that some refugees fleeing Ukraine were turning up with frostbite due to the cold weather, while some coming from areas that have been targeted and bombed by Russia were “traumatised” and in need of mental healthcare.

“The first wave of refugees were very quickly moving on because these were people with resources, they had contacts elsewhere, so they came and they moved,” one official told reporters. “In the second wave we were starting to see these people who are very traumatised, they left without any resources, they are very vulnerable and they need more direct support.”

Many have fled to neighbouring Poland, Hungary, Moldova, Slovakia and Romania, while some 300,000 people are estimated to have moved onwards to western European countries.

Meanwhile, the humanitarian crisis within Ukraine continues to unfold, as Moscow encircles and bombards a number of cities.

In the capital Kyiv, residents have entered a 35-hour long curfew after its mayor said several apartment blocks were hit by Russian forces based outside the city, killing at least two people.

In Mariupol, the southern port city besieged by Russian forces for nearly three weeks, the Red Cross has warned that hundreds of thousands of people were suffering shortages of food, medicine, heat and electricity.

Following a number of failed attempts to establish a humanitarian corridor to allow civilians to flee the city, a convoy of 2,000 cars was finally able to flee on Tuesday, after 160 cars did so on Monday.

But an adviser to Mariupol’s mayor claimed that up to 20,000 people may have been killed during the Russian bombardment of the city.

Warning that bodies lay unattended in the city’s streets, Petro Andryushchenko told the Ukraine Pravda website: “Some are being buried, some are in the yards, on the streets. Due to the intensity of the shelling, people cannot even go outside to bury their loved ones.”

As many as 200,000 people are thought to still be trapped in the city.

In the west of Ukraine, the Russian bombing on Sunday of a military base near Lviv – just 23 kilometres from Poland – appears to have encouraged more people to seek refuge across the border.

“Everybody considered west Ukraine to be quite safe until they started striking Lviv,” Zhanna, a 40-year-old mother from Kharkiv heading to Poland to reunite with her godmother, told Reuters.

Some 500km southeast, at the busy Romanian Danube border crossing of Isaccea, a woman named Tanya, from Mykolaiv in southern Ukraine, told the news agency: “On the way here I cried because I love my country. I want to live in Ukraine but I can’t. Because they are destroying everything now.”

Lamenting that “the impact on civilians is reaching terrifying proportion”, UN secretary-general Antonio Guterres warned on Monday that Russia’s war on Ukraine was also holding “a sword of Damocles” over developing countries which face skyrocketing food, fuel and fertiliser prices – and are now seeing their breadbasket “being bombed.”

Russia and Ukraine represent more than half of the world’s supply of sunflower oil and about 30 per cent of the world’s wheat, while grain prices have already exceeded those at the start of the Arab Spring and the food riots of 2007-2008, Mr Guterres said.

At least 45 African and developing countries import a third or more of their wheat from Ukraine and Russia, including Lebanon, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen, he said, adding: “All of this is hitting the poorest the hardest and planting the seeds for political instability and unrest around the globe.”

The Independent has a proud history of campaigning for the rights of the most vulnerable, and we first ran our Refugees Welcome campaign during the war in Syria in 2015. Now, as we renew our campaign and launch this petition in the wake of the unfolding Ukrainian crisis, we are calling on the government to go further and faster to ensure help is delivered. To find out more about our Refugees Welcome campaign, click here. To sign the petition click here. If you would like to donate then please click here for our GoFundMe page.

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