BEREGSURANY, Hungary: Thousands of people fleeing war in Ukraine crossed into central Europe on Sunday, with queues at border crossings stretching back for kilometers on the fourth day of a Russian invasion that has pushed nearly 400,000 people to seek safety abroad.
With men of conscription age prevented from leaving Ukraine, mostly women and children arrived at the border in eastern Poland, Slovakia and Hungary and in northern and northeastern Romania. Some pulled suitcases behind while others had only small duffel bags.
At Beregsurany in Hungary, Valeria, a 44-year-old ethnic Hungarian from Ukraine, fretted over leaving her brother and elderly mother behind in her home town of Berehove, 8 km (5 miles) from the border into the European Union.
“We would not go if we did not have to. If fate was not forcing us, we would not leave,” her husband Laszlo said. The couple declined to give their full names.
The exodus will require the EU to prepare for millions of Ukrainian refugees arriving in the bloc, EU Home Affairs Commissioner Ylva Johansson said.
Germany has warned against putting up bureaucratic hurdles, while France said EU countries will consider “in the next hours and days” if they need to put in place a resettlement program for Ukrainians fleeing the conflict.
The UN refugee agency, citing data provided by national authorities, said on Sunday about 368,000 people have fled abroad from the fighting.
Just under half have gone to Poland. At Poland’s Medyka crossing, where 40,000 people have crossed from Ukraine since Thursday, around one hundred women, children and teenagers stood in line waiting to be processed by Polish border guards.
“My message will be very short: It can happen with you, in every home in Europe,” said Sofiia Kochmar-Tymoshenko after crossing into Poland. “Because nobody knows what Putin wants and where he will finish.”
On the Ukrainian side, a queue of cars and buses stretched back some 35 km to the town of Sudova Vyshnya.
Makeshift kitchens served hot meals alongside the road, and volunteers handed out snacks at a petrol station. Ukrainian police looked on as people walked with dogs on leashes and fathers carried children on their backs, everyone swaddled in winter clothes.
Piles of clothing lined the potholed road that cuts through fields and forests toward Lviv, as people sought to lighten their load.
Once in Poland, newly arrived refugees sifted through boxes of donated sweets and toiletries, and collected fruit from makeshift stands. A trickle of cars and vans headed back for Ukraine packed with food supplies.
Kristina, a 27-year-old Ukrainian who said she left Lviv on Sunday, sat in front of a grocery store in Medyka with her dog.
“We call him Dog, just Dog. Now it’s a Wartime Dog,” she said as she waited for a group of acquaintances to pick her up and drive away from the border.
OUTPOURING OF SUPPORT
Across central Europe, authorities set up makeshift reception centers in tents where people could get medical aid and process asylum papers, while thousands of volunteers drove up to the borders with donations of collected food, blankets and clothes, offering transport services and shelter.
German railway operator Deutsche Bahn said on Sunday it would offer free of charge trips from Poland to Germany for refugees from Ukraine.
Meanwhile, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said it was receiving calls from people still in Ukraine pleading for food, money, hygiene items and blankets.
“We’re also receiving a growing number of calls from people in other countries, urgently seeking information on their families and friends inside,” the ICRC said on Twitter.
In Hungary, the immigration authority said only 10 people had applied for asylum so far, as an overwhelming majority of people who came over were ethnic Hungarians or already had the right to stay in the country. Thirty-five people have applied for asylum in Slovakia.
Romanian authorities said about half of those who had entered the country so far, or about 20,000 people, had already left for elsewhere in Europe.
The Czech government said a train with military aid for Ukraine had arrived in Poland, loaded with machine guns, sniper rifles, pistols and artillery ammunition.
Romania will send fuel, ammunition, bullet-proof vests, helmets, military equipment, food and water worth 3 million euros ($3.8 million) to Ukraine and has offered to care for the wounded in military and civilian hospitals, government spokesman Dan Carbunaru said on Sunday.
Speaking to reporters at the Slovak border crossing of Ubla, president Zuzana Caputova renewed calls by some in the EU for Ukraine to be admitted as a member.
“What Ukraine is fighting for now is not just Ukraine and its territorial integrity, but it is our European democratic values,” she said.