UN reveals ‘phenomenal’ Ukraine refugee numbers

More than one million people have left the country since the Russian invasion last week

More than 1.2 million people have fled Ukraine after Russia attacked on February 24, according to the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR). More than half of them (53.7%) fled to Poland, while others sought shelter in Hungary, Moldova, Slovakia, and Romania, among other places.

“The rate of this exodus is quite phenomenal,” UNHCR spokeswoman Joung-ah Ghedini-Williams said on Friday. She added that “there are many more on the move.”

“Also there are possibly equal numbers inside the country that are internally displaced,” Ghendini-Williams said.

Russia insists that it was forced to attack its neighbor in order to defend the Donetsk and Lugansk People’s Republics (DPR and LPR), which broke away from Ukraine shortly after the 2014 coup in Kiev. Moscow also said it was seeking the “demilitarization and denazification” of the country. Meanwhile, Ukraine said the attack was entirely unprovoked and appealed to the international community for help.

Ukraine accuses Russia of shelling residential areas in Kiev and places like Kharkov, the country’s second-largest city. Moscow insists that its forces only strike military targets, such as airfields and radar stations.

More than 96,000 people left the DPR and LPR for Russia shortly before the invasion, according to the country’s Emergencies Ministry. Other officials put that number as high as 120,000.

Kiev and the two breakaway republics have for years accused each other of multiple violations of the 2014-2015 ceasefire agreements.

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