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Refugee arrivals dip, but Ukraine’s neighbours scramble to provide shelter

Randy Mancini 4 Mar 12
People flee Russia's invasion of Ukraine in Rzeszow
People rest in a temporary accommodation for people fleeing the Russian invasion of Ukraine, in Rzeszow, Poland, March 12, 2022. REUTERS/Fabrizio Bensch

March 12, 2022

By Marek Strzelecki and Mari Saito

PRZEMYSL, Poland (Reuters) – Ukraine’s neighbours reported a dip in numbers of refugees on Saturday as governments and volunteers struggled to find shelter for the nearly 2.6 million mostly women and children who have fled since Russia’s invasion two weeks ago.

Arrivals were still building on an influx that is overwhelming volunteers, non-governmental organisations and authorities in eastern Europe’s border communities as well as the big cities to which most of the refugees head.

Poland’s Border Guard said 76,200 people arrived on Friday – a drop of 12% from the day before. Slovak police reported a similar dip in numbers, to 9,581 people, and arrivals to Romania dropped by 22% to 16,348, police said.

Fighting raged northwest of Kyiv and many Ukrainian cities were encircled on Saturday. Bombardments and threats of Russian air attacks endangered attempted evacuations, Ukrainian officials said.

The mayor of Przemysl, a Polish city of 60,000 near the Medyka border crossing, said the number of people arriving fell to around 18,000 over the past day from 23,000 the day before and peaks of over 50,000.

Wojciech Bakun said he needed support to prepare accommodation for 2,000-3,000 people in Przemysl.

“I have the buildings but they need work, it would require between 10-20 million zloty ($2.28-4.57 million). I can’t finance this from the municipal budget as we have other needs, it could be funds from the European Union or from the government,” he said.

Veronika Zhushman, 32, travelling with her 6-year-old daughter, mother and younger sister from Vasylkiv in the Kyiv region, had slept the night in a sports gymnasium at a high school in the city.

She was woken up early Saturday morning by another refugee’s mobile alert about a bombing.

“I haven’t slept well since the beginning of the invasion … after the alarm went off I felt worried all over again,” she said.

The United Nations refugee agency UNHCR reported that nearly 2.6 million people had fled Ukraine as of Friday, 1.6 million of them heading to Poland.

Refugees have aimed for cities with established Ukrainian communities and better chances of finding work.

In the capital Warsaw, a city of 1.8 million before the Russian attack, refugees now make up more than 10% of the population, the city’s mayor said on Friday.

But in the northern Polish city of Olsztyn, just south of the Russian enclave of Kaliningrad, Bozena Szymanowska said Ukrainian refugees had stayed away.

“I live in a beautiful place, I can easily take 10 people… However, nobody wants to come to Olsztyn. They don’t want to be near the Russians, and it is not far to the border.”

WARNINGS OF SCAMS

Hungary has received over 230,000 refugees so far, with 10,530 arrivals on Friday. Romania reported 380,866, including 16,348 on Friday.

Slovakia reported 185,660 arrivals, with most continuing their journey further west. The western route often goes to the Czech Republic, where officials on Friday estimated the number of refugees at about 200,000.

Czech police warned refugees about scammers offering help with visa processing and other assistance for money, or taking personal data that could be abused to steal or launder money. They also urged caution about suspicious offers of work that could lead to forced prostitution or trafficking.

Russia calls its actions in Ukraine a special military operation to disarm its neighbour and dislodge its “neo-Nazi” leaders. Kyiv and its Western allies say this is a baseless pretext to invade a country of 44 million people.

($1 = 4.3794 zlotys)

(Additional reporting by Anna Wlodarczak-Semczuk, Anna Koper and Kacper Pempel in Warsaw, Luiza Ilie in Bucharest, Robert Muller in Prague, Krisztina Than in Budapest, writing by Jan Lopatka, editing by Ros Russell)