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Russia-Ukraine conflict: Why Europe is staring at a massive refugee crisis

The Russian invasion of Ukraine has triggered a massive refugee crisis, with tens of thousands trying to escape to eastern and central European countries

  • Since 2014, the conflict in Eastern Ukraine has pushed people deeper into Ukrainian territory
  • But the fear of a complete conquest by Moscow this time is forcing them across the borders
  • Ukraine accounts for a third of the 4.5 million internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Europe, according to UNHCR estimates

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Russia-Ukraine conflict: Why Europe is staring at a massive refugee crisis

Kyiv: Scared mothers, wailing children, people on cars and foot flocking the Ukraine borders – visuals of desperate families seeking to escape the conflict are heart-wrenching. With Russian forces making a rapid advance, Ukrainians are trying to flee to neighbouring countries with whatever little belongings they could lay their hand on.   “I am from Kyiv. I travelled with my family to western Ukraine for vacation when it started. We decided to leave the country because it’s not clear what will happen. I have a lot of my relatives in Kyiv who are sitting in bomb shelters right now because there is bombing everywhere and people are scared,” said a woman waiting along the Romania border.  

The Russian invasion of Ukraine has triggered a massive refugee crisis, with tens of thousands trying to escape to eastern and central European countries. Since 2014, the conflict in Eastern Ukraine has pushed people deeper into Ukrainian territory, but the fear of a complete conquest by Moscow this time is forcing them across the borders.  

The scale of the refugee crisis in Ukraine can be gauged from the fact that it accounts for a third of the 4.5 million internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Europe, according to UNHCR estimates. But these figures are bound to change drastically with the latest developments. Some reports say over one lakh people have already been displaced internally due to the Russian onslaught.  

Ukraine had earlier estimated that a full-fledged Russian invasion could force 3-5 million people to flee their homes. If the figure is anywhere close, it would dwarf the 2015-16 refugee crisis, which saw around one million refugees fleeing the Middle East into Europe.  

According to estimates, since the onset of the 2014 war, almost 5 lakh people have sought asylum in Russia to escape the conflict and another 2 lakh in Belarus. Ukrainians comprise over 80 per cent of the refugee population of Belarus. Ukraine’s neighbours are bracing for an influx of refugees and have already stationed troops and medical workers along the borders to deal with the situation.  

Poland says the situation is similar to the aftermath of Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014. By 2015, the number of Ukrainian immigrants to Poland had jumped from 2 lakh to over 8 lakh. Some estimates say as many as 2 million Ukrainians have migrated to Poland since 2014.  

Also Read: Putin to Ukrainian military - Remove leadership in Kyiv, take power into your own hands

At present, thousands of people are pouring into Poland every day, even as the country is preparing to host up to one million refugees in view of the fresh crisis. Romania is anticipating migration in the “hundreds of thousands”, while Slovakia and the Czech Republic put estimated inflows in the “tens of thousands”. Czech Republic, though does not share a boundary with Ukraine, is already home to over 2.5 lakh Ukrainians. 

On the other hand, Romanian defence minister Vasile Dincu had earlier said they could receive up to 5 lakh refugees. The spill-over effect might also be felt by Western European countries such as UK, France and Germany.

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