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Millions of refugees are fleeing Ukraine. Where are they going? – USA TODAY

Millions of refugees are fleeing Ukraine in the midst of Russian attacks. They are greater in number than the population of almost all U.S. cities, including Chicago. 

“I have worked in refugee crises for almost 40 years, and I have rarely seen such an incredibly fast-rising exodus of people,” said Filippo Grandi, the high commissioner of the United Nations’ refugee agency.

The nations surrounding Ukraine have all received refugees, the majority of whom have gone to Poland, the third-largest Slavic country after Russia and Ukraine. Poland, Romania, Hungary, Slovakia, Russia and Moldova have each received more than 100,000 Ukrainian refugees.

Evacuees board a train to Poland, at the Lviv train station, western Ukraine, on March 5, 2022.
Evacuees board a train to Poland, at the Lviv train station, western Ukraine, on March 5, 2022.
DANIEL LEAL, AFP via Getty Images

Staying in a war-torn country is dangerous in the face of Russian military strikes and shelling, but so is the trek to leave. A Ukrainian 6-year-old who arrived in Poland described his five-day journey to the border as “bombs, bombs, bombs.”

The war in Ukraine has injured at least 1,333 civilians and killed at least 816 since Russian attacks began on Feb. 24, according to United Nations estimates, though the world body expects casualties are higher than the confirmed tolls. 

‘Bombs, bombs, bombs’: Ukrainian refugees describe harrowing journey to Poland

Children walk past a queue of cars heading to the Poland border near Shehyni, western Ukraine, Tuesday, March 1, 2022.
Children walk past a queue of cars heading to the Poland border near Shehyni, western Ukraine, Tuesday, March 1, 2022.
Pavlo Palamarchuk, AP

Many Ukrainian refugees don’t stay in the countries where they initially sought asylum. For example, as of March 16 about two-thirds of people who entered Moldova from Ukraine had left the country and continued on to Romania, according to the International Organization for Migration. Since borders are open within the Schengen Area of Europe – which includes Poland, Slovakia, Hungary and most Western European countries – it is more difficult to track where refugees go if and when they leave these countries.

While the refugees have been welcomed in many towns and cities, some places are reaching capacity. The mayor of Krakow, one of Poland’s largest cities, said it’s reaching its limit in terms of the number of people it can accommodate, and it looks to direct refugees to places outside the city. The prime minister of the Czech Republic, which does not border Ukraine but has received more than 270,000 Ukrainian refugees, has said of his country, “We have to admit that we are at the very edge when we can accept without problems.”

In addition to those leaving the country, the International Organization for Migration estimated as of Wednesday that nearly 6.5 million people were displaced within Ukraine.

Clockwise from top: Refugees fleeing make their way to the Krakovets border crossing with Poland; people rest in a temporary shelter for Ukrainian refugees near the Polish-Ukrainian border; a child who fled the war looks through a bus window in Przemysl, Poland.
Clockwise from top: Refugees fleeing make their way to the Krakovets border crossing with Poland; people rest in a temporary shelter for Ukrainian refugees near the Polish-Ukrainian border; a child who fled the war looks through a bus window in Przemysl, Poland.
Clockwise from top: Refugees fleeing make their way to the Krakovets border crossing with Poland; people rest in a temporary shelter for Ukrainian refugees near the Polish-Ukrainian border; a child who fled the war looks through a bus window in Przemysl, Poland.
Dan Kitwood, Getty Images; Louisa Gouliamaki, AFP via Getty Images; Daniel Cole, AP

Tens of thousands of asylum-seekers continue to leave Ukraine each day, with the total number hitting over three million. Due to the imposition of martial law, the Ukrainian government temporarily forbade men ages 18 through 60 from leaving the country. This means most of the refugees are women, children and elderly people. 

Ukrainian Pavlo Bilodid, 33, kisses his wife and daughter goodbye as they prepare to board a bus to Poland at Lviv bus main station, western Ukraine, Tuesday, March 1, 2022.
Ukrainian Pavlo Bilodid, 33, kisses his wife and daughter goodbye as they prepare to board a bus to Poland at Lviv bus main station, western Ukraine, Tuesday, March 1, 2022.
Bernat Armangue, AP

Financial support is one of the best ways to help Ukraine. The U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees provides support to refugees through emergency shelters, repairs for homes damaged by shelling, emergency cash assistance and psychological aid. Donate to UNHCR’s relief efforts on its website.

Find other organizations to support to help Ukraine: 9 ways you can help Ukraine 

Published
12:22 pm UTC Mar. 19, 2022

Updated
12:31 pm UTC Mar. 19, 2022