Thousands more people fleeing heavy fighting in Ukraine poured into central and eastern Europe on Tuesday as part of renewed efforts to create safe escape routes from towns bombarded by Russian forces.
Two million people – mostly women and children – have fled Ukraine since the Russian invasion began on February 24, UNHCR, the UN refugee agency, said.
As fighting around many major Ukrainian cities intensifies under Russian missile and artillery attacks, authorities across Eastern Europe are struggling to cope with the growing wave of refugees.
“As far as accommodation is concerned, there are indeed times when it is very crowded,” said Witold Wolczyk, from the mayor’s office in Przemysl, a town near Poland’s busiest border crossing which is become a hub for Ukrainian refugees.
“Last night we managed to get 30 buses out of Przemysl, they went in different directions… We are trying to do our best to make this traffic go smoothly,” he said.
At the Medyka border post, east of Przemysl, where the refugees arrived on foot and by car, the queue of waiting vehicles stretched for about 6 kilometers (3.7 miles) with wait times from Ukrainian side of the border at 8 p.m., two women told Reuters after successfully crossing.
Nearly two weeks into the invasion, the UNCR chief warned that the first wave of refugees was likely to be followed by a second wave of more vulnerable people without resources or connections.
“It will be a more complex situation for European countries to manage in the future, and it will require even more solidarity from everyone in Europe and beyond,” Filippo Grandi told a press conference in Oslo.
European Union officials have said the bloc could see the arrival of some 5 million people. So far, most of those fleeing remain in countries bordering Ukraine, led by Poland, which has taken in more than a million people so far.
After several failed efforts to create “humanitarian corridors” for civilians fleeing some of the fiercest fighting, Ukrainian officials said evacuations had begun from the besieged city of Sumy, as well as from the town of Irpin on the outskirts. from Kyiv.
Outrage over Russia’s assault and a long history of strained relations with Moscow have seen the refugees widely greeted with an outpouring of sympathy and aid efforts across eastern and central Europe.
Russia calls its actions in Ukraine – which sparked Europe’s worst refugee crisis since World War II – a “special military operation”.
Nearly 300,000 people have entered Romania since the start of the war, around half of whom have entered from non-EU Moldova, while more than 140,000 have reached Slovakia and nearly 200,000 have entered Hungary, according to officials.
Further out of Ukraine, authorities said more than 100,000 people had traveled to the Czech Republic, where the refugee center in Prague reopened after closing due to overcapacity on Monday, while more than 43 000 had entered Bulgaria.
The UN had confirmed the death of 406 civilians in Ukraine on Monday, but said the true figure was likely much higher, while hundreds of thousands of people had been cut off from aid due to the fighting.