Over 3 million have fled the fighting in Ukraine

People fleeing Russia's ongoing invasion of Ukraine in Medyka
Women fleeing Russia’s ongoing invasion of Ukraine sit on a bus after crossing the border from Ukraine into Poland at the border checkpoint in Medyka, Poland March 15, 2022. REUTERS/Zohra Bensemra

March 15, 2022

By Anna Koper and Olimpiu Gheorghiu

PRZEMYSL, Poland/PALANCA, Moldova (Reuters) – Almost three weeks after the start of the war, the number of Ukrainians who have fled abroad surpassed the 3 million mark on Tuesday, the United Nations said, as people face fighting and escaped Russian bombing raids.

Around 3,000,381 people have left Ukraine so far, according to data from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). She bases her relief plans on 4 million refugees but has said the number is likely to increase.

After the Russian attack on the Yavoriv military base near Lemberg on Sunday, some people from western Ukraine have now joined the flow of refugees across the border.

“Everyone thought western Ukraine was pretty safe until they started attacking Lviv,” said Zhanna, 40, a mother from Kharkiv who was on her way to Poland to see her godmother, who left Ukraine a few days earlier.

“We left Kharkiv for Kirovohrad,” she said at the train station in Przemysl, the closest town to Poland’s busiest border crossing with Ukraine. “We wanted to stay there. We didn’t want to go abroad.”

“Then they started attacking Kirovohrad, they started attacking Lviv, and it’s complicated to avoid bombs with a small child,” she said, adding that her husband stayed in Ukraine.

The vast majority of refugees are in the countries bordering Ukraine – Poland, Slovakia, Hungary, Romania and Moldova – with over half of them, or 1.8 million, in Poland alone.

But a significant number of refugees are beginning to move further west, with 300,000 people having gone to western Europe so far, UNHCR said on Tuesday.

“If we really show our best side in solidarity, we can overcome (this challenge),” said the European Union’s top migration commissioner, Ylva Johansson, in Brussels.

Her comments were reminiscent of then-German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s characteristic phrase “We can do it” at the height of the previous major refugee influx into Europe in 2015-16, when more than a million people fleeing the war in Syria reached the EU .


In Romania, Ukrainian women and children, some clutching teddy bears, continued to stream through the Siret border crossing, where temperatures dropped to minus 2 degrees Celsius (28 Fahrenheit) overnight.

They pulled suitcases and backpacks and were met by Romanian firefighters and volunteers who carried their belongings to buses that transported them onward.

Further south at Isaccea, a busy border crossing on the Danube, Tanya from Mykolaiv in southern Ukraine said she was fleeing to save her child’s life.

“I cried on the way here because I love my country. I want to live in Ukraine but I can’t. Because they’re destroying everything now,” she said, fighting back tears.

Russia denies attacking civilians and describes its actions as a “special military operation”. Ukraine and Western allies call this a baseless pretext for Russia’s invasion of a democratic country of 44 million people.

In Moldova, one of Europe’s poorest countries, some refugees returned home to Ukraine, either to bring more belongings or in hopes of returning permanently.

Liudmila, who did not give her last name, wanted to go back to Ukraine to get school supplies for her children in Chisinau, the capital of Moldova.

“They started studying online on Monday, so I should take them some things – books, to write with,” she said.

According to UNHCR, those who fled early in the conflict mostly had resources and contacts outside Ukraine, but now many of the refugees had left in a hurry and were more vulnerable.

“We see a lot of older people and a lot of people with disabilities, really people who expected and hoped until the last moment that the situation would change,” said Tatiana Chabac, a staff member at UNHCR.

Another woman, who did not give her name, drove back to Odessa with her toddler. “We want to go home,” she said as she crossed the border into Ukraine.

(Reporting by Anna Koper in Przemysl and Olimpiu Gheorghiu in Palanca; Additional reporting by Branko Filipovic in Siret, Fedja Grulovic in Isaccea, Pawel Florkiewicz in Warsaw, Krisztina Than in Budapest, Jan Lopatka in Prague, Gabriela Baczynska in Brussels and Stephanie Nebehay in Geneva ; writing by Gwladys Fouche; editing by Janet Lawrence, Alexandra Hudson and Lisa Shumaker) Over 3 million have fled the fighting in Ukraine

Bobby Allyn

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