29th Mar 2023

Ukrainians fleeing as aid groups scramble to offer support

  • Moldova has set up temporary placement centres near Palanca and Ocnița for fleeing Ukrainians (Photo: Moldova government)
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As warnings emerged that the number of Ukrainian refugees could reach several million, EU states said they were ready to accommodate more people than initially expected — but that still could be short of what is eventually required.

In a sign of the task ahead, Filippo Grandi, the UN high commissioner for refugees, said that the "humanitarian consequences on civilian populations will be devastating."

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Aid organisations on the ground are making similar warnings as Russia continues to shell cities and villages throughout Ukraine.

Among the largest is Caritas, the global Catholic aid agency, which told EUobserver that people were fleeing for their lives.

Speaking from Kyiv , the charity's spokesperson Vladyslav Shelokov said "they [civilians] are moving out of cities and villages near the front line on the east."

Caritas is setting up emergency reception centres in Dnipro, Poltava, Zaporizhia, as well as in western Ukraine - in Khmelnytsky, Ivano-Frankivsk, Ternopil, and Lviv.

The Norwegian Refugee Council had also seen "quite significant movements from Kyiv" towards Lviv and westwards amid reports, including from CNN, which found a contingent of Russian soldiers at an airport outside the capital.

There are also particular concerns for the welfare of large numbers of elderly and disabled near the warring contact line in the east.

"All of these people have very limited means to move and to seek shelter and safety elsewhere," said Ole Solvang, a director at the Norwegian aid organisation.

Ukrainians with the means to do so are on the move.

4,000 reach Moldova

By Thursday afternoon, Moldova said some 4,000 Ukrainians had crossed into its territory.

Others are also likely to enter the neighbouring EU states of Poland, Slovakia, Romania and Hungary — with the UN refugee agency asking that these countries keep their border crossings open.

All four states, as well as others nearby, said they have prepared contingency plans.

Poland has said it could take in a million Ukrainians — though that figure may be more of an optimistic show of support for an oppressed neighbour than one based on concrete preparation.

Romania's defence minister earlier this week said they could take in 500,000. Volunteers there have also set up Facebook page to help out.

And Hungary's prime minister Viktor Orban posted a picture on Facebook with a meeting of his military leaders on Wednesday that showed a map indicating the country could be preparing for 600,000 arrivals.

On Thursday, Poland announced the creation of nine reception centres located in Hrebenne, Zosin, Dorohusk, Dołhobyczów (lubelskie), Korczowa, Medyka, Budomierz, Krościenko and Przemyśl.

Poland and Slovakia 'open'

Warsaw also promised to keep its border crossing points along Ukraine open, a pledge likewise made by Moldova and Slovakia.

For its part, the European Commission said its EU border force, Frontex, along with the EU asylum agency, are ready to be deployed to help EU states experiencing large scale arrivals.

The commission also would provide emergency funds to EU states most affected by a sudden influx, the commission president Ursula von der Leyen wrote in a letter to a member of the European Parliament this week.

"The commission will also stand by to coordinate any solidarity efforts needed with member states affected," she told Romanian liberal Vlad Gheorghe, an EU lawmaker.

The commission had also increased access to EU financial aid for humanitarian agencies in Ukraine as well as Moldova, she said.

And then there's another form of aid that may be forthcoming where EU states may also activate the EU's Civil Protection Mechanism, to help bear the cost of setting up shelters and tapping medical teams.

Money for Ukraine to manage its budget is also on the table. In February, the commission proposed a €1.2bn emergency macro-financial assistance package for the country.

"Ukrainian cities have been hit, innocent people killed," von der Leyen said in a statement with EU council president Charles Michel and Nato chief Jens Stoltenberg on Thursday.

"Women, men, and children are fleeing for their lives," they said. Ukrainians "need our strong support more than ever."


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