Ukrainians are fleeing the war, seeking security across the western borders

Przemysl, Poland – Thousands of Ukrainians have fled to neighboring countries in the west in search of security as Russia strikes on its capital and other cities for a second day.

Mostly women, children and the elderly arrived after Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on Thursday banned men of draft age from leaving the country.

A woman from the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv, who arrived in Przemysl, Poland, burst into tears as she described how men in Ukraine were pulled off trains before they reached the border.

“Even if the man was traveling with his own child, he could not cross the border, even with a child,” said the woman, who said only her name Daria.

68-year-old Vilma Shugar fled her home in Uzhhorod (Ukraine), trembling with fear, and then faced grief over the death of her 47-year-old son.

“I’m shaking, I can’t calm down,” she said when she arrived in Záhony, Hungary. “We crossed the border, but he was simply not allowed to enter. We are trying to keep in touch with him by phone, but it is difficult because the line is bad. “

Another woman who arrived on her train, 50-year-old Erzebet Kovacs, said the men were not even allowed on the station.

“We women got on the train, but the men were ordered to step aside,” she said.

Ukrainian authorities, she said, “were good, not rude, but said men are obliged to defend the country.”

At some border crossings, cars were involved for several kilometers (miles) as authorities in Poland, Slovakia, Hungary, Romania and Moldova mobilized to receive them, providing shelter, food and legal assistance. These countries have also facilitated their usual border procedures, including requirements for testing for COVID-19.

Ukrainians arrived at border crossings in Poland on foot, by car and train – some with their pets – and were greeted by Polish authorities and volunteers, offering them food and hot drinks.

Some sought to join relatives who had already settled in Poland and other EU countries, whose strong economies had attracted Ukrainian workers for many years.

For many, the first stop was the railway station in Przemyśl, a city in southeastern Poland, which for many is a transit point. Ukrainians slept in beds and chairs, waiting for their next steps, with relief to escape the shelling of Kiev and other places.

German Foreign Minister Annalena Burbock said the EU would accept all people fleeing Ukraine because of the current conflict.

“We tried everything to prevent this day,” she said. “And it happened because the president of Russia chose it, he chose war and against human lives.”

“So we will take in all the people who are fleeing now,” Burbock said. “We will take people out of Ukraine to safety.”

Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi spoke in parliament on Friday about “long queues of cars leaving Kyiv and other Ukrainian cities, heading mainly to the EU’s borders”, and said he could imagine a huge influx of refugees into neighboring Europe. countries. “

“The images we see – unarmed civilians forced into hiding in bunkers and subways – are horrific and take us back to the darkest days of European history,” he said.

The UN refugee agency, UNHCR, has estimated that more than 100,000 people are believed to have fled their homes in Ukraine and that up to 4 million people could flee to other countries if the situation escalates.

This week, Hungary, which has mobilized its troops, announced in a decree that all Ukrainian citizens coming from Ukraine and all third-country nationals legally residing there will be entitled to protection.

The greetings that Poland and Hungary are giving to Ukrainians now are very different from the unfavorable attitude they have had towards refugees and migrants from the Middle East and Africa in recent years. Hungary built a wall to prevent them when a million people, many Syrians fleeing the war, arrived in Europe in 2015.

Poland is now building its own wall with Belarus after thousands of mostly Middle Eastern migrants tried to leave Belarus in recent months. The EU has accused Russia-backed Belarus of encouraging a migration boom to destabilize the EU. Some of those people who were denied entry to Poland died in the woods.

But Ukrainians look at Poles and others very differently because they are mostly Christians, and for Poles they are tribesmen with similar linguistic and cultural roots.

Transcarpathia, the westernmost region of Ukraine bordering Hungary, is also home to about 150,000 ethnic Hungarians, many of whom are also Hungarian citizens. While Russia’s invasion has not yet spread to the area separated from the rest of Ukraine by the Carpathians, many have decided not to expect the situation to worsen.

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