As the Russian army intensifies its offensive against Ukraine, thousands of refugees are heading for the European Union

The other side of Russia's invasion: more than half a million Ukrainians flee their homes

AP/ANDRY ANDRIYENKO - A boy says goodbye to a relative looking out the window of a train carriage waiting to leave Ukraine for the west of the country at the Kramatorsk train station, eastern Ukraine, Sunday, Feb. 27, 2022.

Russia's invasion of Ukraine has completely upended the European continent and the post-war world order. However, this attack has also provoked a strong and united response from European leaders. Vladimir Putin has been met with a European Union that is strong, solid and more united than ever. The continent has been able to react to this flagrant violation of international law by Russia.

Brussels, through the European Peace Fund, will send arms to the Ukrainian army, whose resistance to Russian troops is more than remarkable. Some countries will also send arms directly to the country. In this sense, it is worth noting the radical turn of Germany, a country that, due to its pacifist stance established at the end of the Second World War, had opposed sending arms directly to any country in conflict.

En total, más de medio millón de personas han huido de Ucrania desde que su amo soviético, Moscú, lanzó una invasión a gran escala el 24 de febrero, con más de la mitad huyendo hacia la vecina Polonia, miembro de la UE y de la OTAN, dijo la ONU el 28 de febrero de 2022 AFP/WOJETK RADWANSKI

Another area where European countries are responding appropriately is in the reception of Ukrainians who have fled the country in the face of incessant shelling by the Russian army. The EU is preparing to receive millions of refugees from Ukraine, while the UN and refugee organisations estimate the number of people fleeing the Russian invasion at between 4 and 7 million. The European Commission has warned that this is "the biggest humanitarian crisis on the continent for many years".

Vehículo alcanzado por las balas, mientras continúa la invasión rusa de Ucrania, en Kyiv, Ucrania 28 de febrero de 2022 Jedrzej Nowicki/Agencja vía REUTERS

So far, more than half a million people have fled Ukraine as Moscow redoubles its military offensive to take Kiev. According to UNHCR, more than 500,000 citizens have already crossed national borders leaving their homes behind. The UN stresses that this "massive outflow" has taken place in just five days, although, due to the latest developments in the country, this exodus will continue.

Refugiados de Ucrania cruzan a Polonia en el cruce de Medyka, el martes 1 de marzo de 2022 AP/MARKUS SCHREIBER

In the last few hours, the Russian army has brutally shelled Kharkov, the country's second largest city. Meanwhile, a Russian convoy more than 60 kilometres long is heading towards the capital. "I have been working on refugee crises for almost 40 years and rarely have I seen such an incredibly rapid exodus of people," said UNHCR chief Filippo Grandi.

Personas procedentes de Ucrania descienden de un ferry para entrar en Rumanía tras cruzar el río Danubio en el paso fronterizo de Isaccea-Orlivka entre Rumanía y Ucrania el 26 de febrero de 2022 AFP/DANIEL MIHAILESCU

Poland is the country that is receiving the most Ukrainians. According to the UN, more than 280,000 refugees have entered Polish territory, although Warsaw says another 50,000 arrive every day. In one day alone, last Sunday, more than 73,000 people crossed Polish border crossings. Other countries receiving Ukrainians are Romania, Slovakia, Hungary and Moldova.

El primer ministro de Polonia, Mateusz Morawiecki, habla con los medios de comunicación a su llegada a una cumbre extraordinaria de la UE sobre Ucrania en el edificio del Consejo Europeo en Bruselas, el jueves 24 de febrero de 2022 AP/JOHN THYS
Poland, a European example in receiving Ukrainian refugees

Andrzej Duda's government was one of the first to respond and welcome its neighbours. A day after Russia began shelling and invading the country, Poland's Ministry of Health announced that 120 national hospitals were ready to receive Ukrainians in need of medical treatment. A train equipped to transport up to 150 wounded from the border to the hospitals was even prepared. Health Minister Adam Niedzielski also contemplated the possibility of using temporary coronavirus hospitals for victims of the Russian attacks.

Autobús con destino a Polonia en la estación central de autobuses de Lviv, en el oeste de Ucrania, el martes 1 de marzo de 2022. Los bombardeos rusos golpearon objetivos civiles en la segunda ciudad más grande de Ucrania el martes y un convoy de 40 millas de tanques y otros vehículos amenazaron la capital AP/BERNAT ARMANGUE

In addition to medical assistance, Ukrainian citizens receive accommodation and food in Poland. "All refugees from Ukraine who need help will find it in Poland," said the head of the Polish border guard, Tomasz Praga, according to Notes from Poland. On the other hand, the state railway company, PKP, has announced that Ukrainian citizens will be able to travel free of charge for the next four weeks. Infrastructure Minister Andrzej Adamczyk urged other public transport operators to do the same. 

Refigiados de Ucrania en la Escuela Primaria nº 14 que ha sido convertida en refugio, en Przemysl, Polonia 28 de febrero de 2022 REUTERS/YARA NARDI

However, not all this help is coming from the authorities. The Polish population has also reached out to its neighbours, getting directly involved in humanitarian aid. Donation campaigns have been launched in most Polish cities. In Krakow, for example, citizens have donated more than 50 tonnes of food, according to the city's official Twitter account.  

Refugiados tratan de mantenerse calientes tras huir de la invasión rusa de Ucrania, en el paso fronterizo de Medyka, en Polonia, el martes 1 de marzo de 2022. Durante todo el día, los trenes y autobuses que llevan a las personas que huyen de Ucrania a la seguridad de las ciudades fronterizas polacas AP/VISAR KRYEZIU

The Church, an institution with great weight in the country, is also participating in the reception of refugees. According to local media, Caritas Poland has collected tons of food for Ukrainians through donation campaigns. The spokesman for the Polish Bishops' Conference, Leszek Gesiak, has also called for the opening of "shelters, retreat centres and all places where help can be provided". Even the large shrine of Jasna Góra, located in the city of Częstochowa, has received refugees who currently reside in the shrine's Pilgrim's House. 

Refugiados de Ucrania llegan a la estación de tren en Przemysl, Polonia, el domingo 27 de febrero de 2022 AP/CZAREK SOKLOWSKI

The Polish Church already demonstrated an exemplary role during the migration crisis last November. Then, Caritas announced the installation of 'Tents of Hope' to welcome the thousands of refugees who crossed the Belarusian border. 
Since the 2014 crisis, the number of Ukrainians in Poland has increased considerably. Before the current war, there were already more than one million Ukrainians residing in the country

Mapa de Europa que muestra la afluencia de refugiados ucranianos a los países europeos, a partir del 28 de febrero a las 1500 GMT, según  ACNUR AFP/AFP
Europe engages with Ukrainian refugees

In addition to the bordering countries, other European nations have announced that they will receive Ukrainian refugees. Germany's foreign minister, Annalena Baerbock, stated that her government will receive all Ukrainians fleeing the war. Even Serbia, a country that has traditionally been closer to Russia, said it was ready to receive refugees. In Bosnia and Herzegovina, citizens themselves have offered to take refugees into their homes via social media. "We have been through the same thing. We are more than happy to help," one family posted on Facebook, according to Euronews. 

Voluntarios ofrecen ayuda a los refugiados tras la llegada de un tren procedente de Polonia a la estación central de trenes de Berlín, tras la invasión rusa de Ucrania, en Berlín, Alemania, 28 de febrero de 2022 PHOTO/REUTERS

Italy, meanwhile, has declared a state of emergency until the end of the year to cope with the influx of Ukrainian refugees. This measure has been taken in order to "guarantee relief and assistance to the Ukrainian population on national territory", according to the Italian newspaper Il Giorno.

The French state railway company, SNCF, is to follow in the footsteps of other countries and allow Ukrainians to use trains free of charge. "The drama hitting Ukraine affects us all," the state company's president, Jean-Pierre Farandou, wrote on Twitter. 

Refugiados ucranianos llegan desde el paso fronterizo peatonal de Medyka, en Przemsyl, al este de Polonia, el 26 de febrero de 2022, tras la invasión rusa de Ucrania AFP/WOJETK RADWANSKI

Even the countries furthest away from Ukraine have committed themselves to the refugees. Spain, for one, is already preparing to receive Ukrainians, while Portugal has passed a resolution to streamline temporary protection for refugees and simplify bureaucratic processes for accessing health, tax and employment services, reports EFE.

This exodus is a major challenge for Europe, but it also underlines the continent's full support for Ukraine and its citizens.

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