Number of Ukrainian refugees passes UN worst-case estimate

MEDYKA, Poland (AP) — The number of people who have fled Ukraine since Russian forces invaded has surpassed 4 million, the United Nations reported Wednesday as shelling continued in some places. where Moscow had vowed to facilitate its military operations.

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

Despite Russia’s announcement during talks on Tuesday that its forces would facilitate their attack near the Ukrainian capital Kiev and elsewhere, Nazarov said he expects “more escalation” in the east of the country, including the city he and his father fled.

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

Nazarov, like other refugees interviewed by The Associated Press, echoed the views of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy. In his overnight video address, Zelenskyy said that given what was happening on the ground, there was no reason to believe Russia’s statement about reducing military activities near Kiev and in Chernihiv, a besieged northern city.

“We can call those signals that we are hearing in the negotiations positive,” Zelenskyy said in his address to the Ukrainian people. “But those signals don’t dampen the explosions of Russian shells.”

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

“I don’t believe in a truce,” said Konstantynova, who fled to Romania a month ago with her 8-year-old son. She says they will only return when “the bombs no longer explode in my city” and “when Russian troops leave our territory completely”.

Elena Litvinova, a 33-year-old accountant from Mykolaiv, is also skeptical of the Russian promises and will not go home with her two young children until ‘our president says the war is over’.

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

Olha Kovalyova, who arrived in Poland with her two children, said she did not trust Moscow because it failed to fulfill previous promises made under the 2014 and 2015 agreements to end fighting between Russian-backed separatists and Ukrainian troops, had not been fulfilled. eastern Donbas region.

“The Minsk agreement is not working, so how can we call it peace talks if they are firing and bombing our cities during and after the talks?” said Kovaljova. “There is no confidence in Russia, but I also hope for peace and tranquility, but unfortunately this is the situation.”

The United Nations refugee agency UNHCR said on Wednesday that more than 4 million people have left Ukraine since Russia launched its invasion on Feb. 24, sparking the biggest refugee crisis in Europe since World War II. That number exceeds worst-case predictions made at the start of the war.

Half of the refugees from Ukraine are children, according to UNHCR and the UN children’s agency UNICEF.

“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 in about a month, 4 million people have been uprooted from their homes, from their families, from their communities in what is the fastest refugee exodus in recent history.”

More than 2.3 million refugees from Ukraine entered Poland, but some have since moved on to other countries. A small number have returned to Ukraine, either to help defend against the Russians or to care for relatives.

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

“The situation in Ukraine is escalating,” UNICEF director Catherine Russell said in a statement on Wednesday. “As the number of children fleeing their homes continues to rise, we must remember that each and every one of them needs protection, education, safety and support.”

Filippo Grandi, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, entered Ukraine on Wednesday and said he would be in the western city of Lviv to discuss ways to increase support “for people affected and displaced by this senseless war”. .

Lviv has become a destination for Ukrainians looking for a safe place to stay or en route to neighboring European countries. UNHCR teams and their partners have worked to provide protection, emergency shelter, cash assistance, essential relief supplies and other critical services for refugees.

UNHCR predicted from the outset that about 4 million people would flee Ukraine and said it regularly reconsidered its predictions.

Aid workers say the number of people displaced has dwindled in recent days as many residents waited for clues about the direction the invasion would take. The UN estimates that the war also displaced 6.5 million people in the country.

The International Organization for Migration, which tracks not only refugees but all people who leave their homes, reported earlier this month that an estimated more than 12 million people are 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 about safe destinations and shelter.

All told, more than 22 million people are either blocked from moving or forced to flee, IOM figures show.

Jamey Keaten reported from Geneva. Vanessa Gera in Warsaw, Stephen McGrath in Brasov, Romania, and Srdjan Nedeljkovic in Medyka contributed to this report.

Follow the AP’s coverage of the war at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine

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