At least one million people have fled Ukraine in the week since Russia’s invasion, the United Nations said, with one official warning that “at this rate” the exodus could become “the biggest refugee crisis this century”.
Thursday’s tally from the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) amounts to more than 2 percent of Ukraine’s population, which the World Bank counted at 44 million at the end of 2020, on the move across borders in just seven days.
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The agency cautioned that the outflows were far from finished: It has predicted that as many as 4 million people could eventually leave Ukraine, and even that projection could be revised upward.
Joung-ah Ghedini-Williams, a spokeswoman for the UNHCR, told the Associated Press news agency in an email that “our data indicates we passed the 1 million mark” as of midnight in central Europe, based on counts collected by national authorities.
On Twitter, UN High Commissioner Filippo Grandi wrote, “In just seven days we have witnessed the exodus of one million refugees from Ukraine to neighboring countries.”
He added, “For many millions more, inside Ukraine, it’s time for guns to fall silent, so that life-saving humanitarian assistance can be provided.”
In just seven days we have witnessed the exodus of one million refugees from Ukraine to neighbouring countries.
For many millions more, inside Ukraine, it’s time for guns to fall silent, so that life-saving humanitarian assistance can be provided.
— Filippo Grandi (@FilippoGrandi) March 2, 2022
As the sound of artillery fire, exploding mortar shells, and gunfire echoed across the country, Grandi’s comments testified to the desperation of civilians in Ukraine, as well as the growing concern of a humanitarian disaster by UN agencies, such as the World Health Organization and the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.
The daily figures point to the dizzying speed of the evacuation.
After more than 82,000 people left on the first day of the Russian invasion on February 24, each day afterwards resulted in at least 117,000 new refugees, hitting a peak of nearly 200,000 on Tuesday alone, based on the latest UNHCR count.
In comparison, Syria, whose civil war erupted in 2011 and remains the country with the largest refugee outflows, had nearly 5.7 million people fleeing, according to UNHCR’s figures. But even at the fasted rate of flight in early 2013, it took at least three months for 1 million refugees to leave Syria.
Two years later, in 2015, hundreds of thousands of Syrian and other refugees who had mostly been in Turkey fled to Europe, prompting disarray in the European Union over its response and at times, skirmishes and pushbacks at some national borders.
So far, UN officials and others have generally praised the response from Ukraine’s neighbours that have opened homes, gymnasiums, and other facilities to take in the new refugees.
UNHCR spokesperson Shabia Mantoo said Wednesday that “at this rate” the outflows from Ukraine could make it the source of “the biggest refugee crisis this century”.
According to UN data, more than half of those fleeing Ukraine went to Poland and more than 116,000 to Hungary to the south. Moldova has taken in more than 79,000 and 71,200 have gone to Slovakia.