The number of Ukrainian refugees exceeds the UN’s worst estimate

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The number of people who have fled Ukraine since Russian troops invaded has exceeded 4 million, the United Nations reported Wednesday as shelling continued in places where Moscow had promised to ease its military operations.

“I don’t know if we can still believe the Russians,” said refugee Nikolay Nazarov, 23, as he crossed the Ukrainian border into Poland with his father in a wheelchair.

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Despite Russia’s announcement during Tuesday’s talks that its forces would ease their assault near Ukraine’s capital, Kiev, and elsewhere, Nazarov said he expected “more escalation” in the country’s east, including the city. from which he and his father fled.

“That’s why we can’t go back to Kharkiv,” he said. “We are afraid of a new phase of the war in eastern Ukraine.”

IDPs look out from a bus at a refugee center in Zaporizhia, Ukraine on March 25, 2022.
(Photo AP / Evgeniy Maloletka)

Nazarov, like other refugees interviewed by the Associated Press, echoed the opinion of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy. In his nightly video speech, Zelenskyy said that given what was happening on the ground, there was no reason to believe Russia’s statement on reducing military activity near Kiev and Chernihiv, a defeated northern city.

“We can call the signals we hear during the negotiations positive,” Zelenskyy said in his speech to the Ukrainian people. “But those signals don’t silence the Russian bullet explosions.”

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For Diana Konstantynova, a 45-year-old accountant from Vinnytsia, southern Ukraine, Russia’s promise to reduce her attacks is not a sign that she can return home safely.

“I don’t believe in a truce,” said Konstantynova, who fled to Romania with her 8-year-old son a month ago. She says they will return only when “the bombs stop exploding in my city” and “when the Russian troops completely leave our territory”.

Elena Litvinova, a 33-year-old accountant from Mykolaiv, is also skeptical of Russia’s promises and will only return home with her two children when “our president says the war is over.”

Refugees, mostly women and children, wait in crowds for transport after fleeing Ukraine and arriving at the border crossing in Medyka, Poland on March 7, 2022.

Refugees, mostly women and children, wait in crowds for transport after fleeing Ukraine and arriving at the border crossing in Medyka, Poland on March 7, 2022.
(Photo AP / Markus Schreiber)

“During the negotiations, the city administration and children’s educational institutions where my children studied were destroyed,” he said at a refugee center in the central city of Brasov, Romania, where he says they will remain until the end of the war. . “It’s still very scary, every day we get messages from home that there are shootings and bombings.”

Olha Kovalyova, who arrived in Poland with her two children, said she did not trust Moscow because she had not kept the previous promises made under the 2014 and 2015 agreements aimed at ending the fighting between the Russian-backed separatists and the forces. Ukrainians in the eastern Donbas region.

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“The Minsk Agreement doesn’t work, so how can we call it peace talks if they shoot and bomb our cities during and after the talks?” Kovalëva said. “There is no trust in Russia, but I also hope for peace and calm, but unfortunately this is the situation”.

The UN refugee agency said Wednesday that more than 4 million people have fled Ukraine since Russia launched its invasion on February 24 and triggered the largest refugee crisis in Europe since the second war. world, a number that exceeds the worst forecasts made at the start of the war.

People who fled the war in Ukraine rest inside an indoor sports stadium used as a refugee center in the village of Medyka, a border crossing point between Poland and Ukraine, on March 15, 2022.

People who fled the war in Ukraine rest inside an indoor sports stadium used as a refugee center in the village of Medyka, a border crossing point between Poland and Ukraine, on March 15, 2022.
(Photo AP / Petros Giannakouris)

“I think it’s a tragic milestone,” said Alex Mundt, UNHCR’s senior emergency coordinator in Poland. “It means that in less than a month or just a month, 4 million people have been uprooted from their homes, their families, their communities, in what is the fastest exodus of refugees on the move in recent history.”

More than 2.3 million refugees from Ukraine have entered Poland, but some have since moved to other countries. A small number returned to Ukraine, both to help defend against the Russians and to look after relatives.

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More than 608,000 refugees have entered Romania, more than 387,000 have gone to Moldova and some 364,000 have entered Hungary in the past five weeks, UNHCR said, based on counts provided by the governments of those countries.

“There are now 4 million refugees from Ukraine, five weeks after the Russian attack began,” tweeted UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi on Wednesday as he passed through Ukraine.

Grandi said he would be in the western city of Lviv and discuss ways to increase support “for those affected and displaced by this senseless war.”

Border police push an elderly lady into an office chair after she and her family fled the conflict from neighboring Ukraine on the Romanian-Ukrainian border in Siret, Romania on February 27, 2022.

Border police push an elderly lady into an office chair after she and her family fled the conflict from neighboring Ukraine on the Romanian-Ukrainian border in Siret, Romania on February 27, 2022.
(Photo AP / Alexandru Dobre)

UNHCR teams and their partners worked to provide protection, emergency shelter, cash assistance, basic necessities and other essential services for refugees.

UNHCR predicted from the outset that some 4 million people could flee Ukraine and said it is regularly reassessing its forecasts.

Aid workers say the number of people fleeing has decreased in recent days as many residents awaited directions on the direction the invasion might take. The UN estimates that the war also caused the displacement of 6.5 million people within the country.

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The International Organization for Migration, which follows not only refugees but all people fleeing their homes, reported earlier this month that more than 12 million people are estimated to be stranded in areas of Ukraine under attack. or unable to leave due to security risks, the destruction of bridges and roads and a lack of information on safe destinations and accommodation.

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Overall, more than 22 million people are blocked from the movement or have been forced to flee, according to IOM data.