BEREGSURANY, HUNGARY – The mass exodus of refugees from Ukraine to the eastern edge of the European Union showed no signs of stopping on Monday as they fled Russia’s raging war, with estimates of the United Nations that more than 500,000 people have escaped.
Long lines of cars and buses are backed up at checkpoints on the borders of Poland, Hungary, Slovakia, Romania and Moldova which are not EU members. Others have walked across the border, pulling their assets out of war and into EU security.
Hundreds of refugees have been gathered at a makeshift reception center in the Hungarian border village of Beregsurany, where they await transport to transit hubs that could take them to Hungary and beyond.
Maria Pavlushko, 24, an information technology project manager from Zhytomyr, a city about 100 kilometers (60 miles) west of the Ukrainian capital Kyiv, said she went on a skiing holiday in the Carpathian mountains when received word from home last week that the Russian Invasion had begun.
“I woke up just because my grandmother called me to say there was war in the city,” she said.
Pavlushko plans to continue traveling from Hungary to Poland, where her mother lives. But her grandmother remained at home in Zhytomyr, she said, and her father stayed behind to join the fight against the invading Russians.
“I’m proud of him,” she said. “Many of my friends, many young men are … playing (Russian soldiers).”
Many of the refugees at the reception center in Beregsurany, as well as other border areas in Eastern Europe, came from India, Nigeria and other African countries, and were working or studying in Ukraine when war broke out. out.
Masroor Ahmed, a 22-year-old Indian medical student studying in Ternopil, western Ukraine, accompanied 18 other Indian students to the Hungarian border. He said they hope to reach the capital, Budapest, where the Indian government has organized an evacuation flight for its citizens.
While Ternopil has not experienced the violence of war, he said, “indeed. There could be a bombing next hour, next month or next year. We’re not sure, that’s why. we left that city.”
Hungary has opened its borders to all refugees fleeing Ukraine, including third-country nationals who can prove Ukrainian residency. The government has set up a “humanitarian corridor” to escort non-Ukrainian nationals from the border to airports in Debrecen and the capital Budapest.
The welcome Hungary is showing towards Ukrainians is very different from the unwelcome stance it has taken towards refugees and migrants from the Middle East and Africa in recent years. Hungary built a wall to keep them out when 1 million people, many of them Syrians fleeing war, arrived in Europe in 2015.
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi tweeted on Monday that more than 500,000 refugees have now fled Ukraine to neighboring countries.
Shabia Mantoo, a spokeswoman for UNHCR, said the latest and growing numbers were 281,000 in Poland, more than 84,500 in Hungary, about 36,400 in Moldova, more than 32,500 in Romania and about 30,000 in Slovakia .
The rest are scattered in other unspecified countries, she said.
In Poland, the country with the most arrivals, trains continued to bring refugees into the border town of Przemysl on Monday. In winter coats to protect them from near-freezing temperatures, many carried small suitcases when queuing at the platform to get out of the station.
Natalia Pivniuk, a young Ukrainian woman from the western city of Lviv, described people jostling and jostling to board the train as it prepared to depart for Poland, which she said was “worth it.” fear, physical danger, and mental danger.”
“People are stressed, people are distorted, and when people are scared, they become selfish and forget about everything,” she says. “People get traumatized because they were on that train.”
Otoman Adel Abid, a student from Iraq, also fled Lviv after he said that many people in the city panic broke out.
“People ran to buy some food and we heard some bombs all over the place,” he told The Associated Press. “We then directly packed up our bags of clothes and some documents and ran to the train station.”
In the Romanian town of Siret on Monday, the European Union’s interior affairs commissioner Ylva Johansson visited a border crossing where thousands of refugees were entering from neighboring Ukraine as they entered the country. fleeing conflict with Russia.
Johansson, who has visited several humanitarian stations at the border, praised the “heartwarming” cooperation between the volunteers and the authorities, and said the EU is united “in a way we have never seen before”. this.”
Johansson told media at the border: “I came here today because I wanted to visit and see with my own eyes, talk directly with local authorities, local people, migrants about the situation and challenges. awake”.
She said it was a “very difficult time as we see war in Europe again, where we see aggression, aggression from (Russian President Vladimir) Putin against with a sovereign neighboring state.”
Johansson, who will meet later on Monday with Romanian President Klaus Iohannis and Prime Minister Nicolae Ciuca, said that Europe is “showing that we are based on values other than Putin.”
Monika Scislowska in Warsaw, Poland, Stephen McGrath in Siret, Romania, and Jamey Keaten in Geneva, contributed to this report.