Europe prepares for refugees from Ukraine

Ukraine’s neighbours are preparing for an influx of refugees fleeing Russia’s invasion of the country.

As Russian air strikes hit overnight, many packed up and left Kyiv for the countryside or the border with the European Union.

Traffic jams clogged the roads out of some cities, and some walked on foot into Poland and Hungary.

The UN refugee chief warned that the humanitarian impact will be “devastating”.

“We are particularly worried about displacement – about people on the move,” Filippo Grandi told the BBC’s Lyse Doucet, who is in Kyiv.

“We estimate that more than 100 000 must have already moved out of their homes in Ukraine seeking safety in other parts of the country,” he said, speaking from Geneva. Grandi added that his agency had stockpiled supplies to provide aid to people in Ukraine – but it could not act while military action was still happening.

Ukraine’s European neighbours say they are ready to receive refugees fleeing the country of 44 million people – one of the most populous in Europe.

Poland says it is preparing hospitals for an influx of wounded Ukrainians, and setting up reception points for refugees along its border.

Interior minister Mariusz Kaminski said he was preparing for a “wave of refugees”.

“Poland is a safe country for our citizens, it will also be a safe country for our neighbours,” he told Reuters news agency.

Moldova, to Ukraine’s south, said it had already seen thousands of people flee Ukraine, including before Thursday’s invasion began.

“We expect much larger numbers,” Roland Schilling, the regional representative of the UN Refugee Agency, told the BBC.

“We are aware of large queues forming at border crossings. We are preparing our humanitarian response together with other UN agencies.”

Slovakia and Hungary are also sending troops to the border to deal with the expected influx of refugees.

Thursday has seen a steady trickle of refugees appear at the Hungarian and Polish borders, as families cross on foot with their suitcases.

But numbers remain relatively small, as many are having trouble leaving Ukraine’s major cities.

Victoria Vota woke up at 5 a.m. in the north-eastern city of Kharviv to what she called “bombing sounds”.

“My neighbours were ringing my doorbell telling me it’s time to leave and maybe evacuate from the city,” she said.

But amid mixed messages about taking shelter at home, “we’re not sure if it’s safe to evacuate”, she said. Some of the roads out of the city came to a standstill later in the morning. (BBC)

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