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2 million refugees have fled Ukraine since Russia invaded, UN says

Refugee commissioner calls crisis the largest in Europe since WWII, says those who have left country so far have ‘some resources’

A woman tries to warm herself by a fire due to freezing cold temperatures, after crossing the Ukrainian border into Poland at the Medyka border crossing, on March 7, 2022. (Louisa Gouliamaki/AFP)
A woman tries to warm herself by a fire due to freezing cold temperatures, after crossing the Ukrainian border into Poland at the Medyka border crossing, on March 7, 2022. (Louisa Gouliamaki/AFP)

GENEVA — The number of refugees fleeing Ukraine reached 2 million on Tuesday, according to the United Nations, the fastest exodus Europe has seen since World War II.

“Today the outflow of refugees from Ukraine reaches two million people. Two million,” Filippo Grandi, the UN high commissioner for refugees, wrote on Twitter.

The update came as a new effort to evacuate civilians along safe corridors finally got underway Tuesday. The route out of the eastern city of Sumy was one of five promised by the Russians to offer civilians a way to escape the Russian onslaught.

Grandi made his remarks at a press conference, after visiting Moldova, Poland and Romania, all of which have received refugees pouring across the border from Ukraine since Russia invaded the country on February 24.

He praised the “exemplary” welcome provided by these three countries, adding they seemed to be “coping” with the “natural spontaneous distribution.”

Grandi stressed that the first waves of refugees were those with “some resources.”

“Many come by car, and especially they have connections. They can go where they have family, friends, communities,” the commissioner said.

“It is possible that if the war continues… we will start seeing people that have no resources and no connections and that will be a more complex issue for European countries to manage going forward and there will need to be even more solidarity by everybody in Europe and beyond,” he said.

Refugees wait in freezing cold temperatures to get on a bus, after crossing the Ukrainian border into Poland at the Medyka border crossing in, on March 7, 2022. (Louisa Gouliamaki/AFP)

For comparison, Grandi said the Balkan wars in Bosnia and Kosovo saw “maybe two to three million people, but over a period of eight years.”

While other parts of the “world have seen this,” Grandi added, “in Europe it’s the first time since the Second World War.”

Michelle Bachelet, the UN high commissioner for human rights, was pressing for all civilians trapped by fighting in Ukraine to be allowed to leave safely. She said Tuesday she is “deeply concerned about civilians trapped in active hostilities in numerous areas.”

Bachelet also told the UN Human Rights Council that her office has received reports of pro-Ukrainian activists being arbitrarily detained in areas of eastern Ukraine that have recently come “under the control of armed groups.” She said there have been reports of beatings of people considered pro-Russian in government-controlled areas.

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