Refugees wait in a line after fleeing the war from neighboring Ukraine at the border crossing in Medyka, southeastern Poland
Associated Press/Sergei Grits
Refugees wait in a line after fleeing the war from neighboring Ukraine at the border crossing in Medyka, southeastern Poland

More than 5 million people have fled Ukraine since Russia’s February invasion of the country, according to data from the United Nations, making it one of the largest refugee crises in Europe since World War II.

Refugee totals that had begun to stabilize are surging anew as Russia pushes into the country’s west, killing civilians in Lviv, a city seen as a relatively safe place for those displaced by the war but who had not yet fled Ukraine.

“As we approach the two-month mark of the war in Ukraine, reaching 5 million refugees is a grim milestone of the toll Putin’s aggression has taken on civilians. With each day that passes, people who escape are even more vulnerable, having lived through months of conflict with no end in sight,” Krish O’Mara Vignarajah, president of Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, said in a statement to The Hill.

“Five million refugees represents 11 percent of the Ukrainian population — meaning nearly 1 in 8 people has now fled the country.”

More than half of fleeing Ukrainians — 2.8 million — have settled in nearby Poland. But hundreds of thousands have also landed in Romania, Hungary and Moldova, while more than a half a million Ukrainians have been pushed into Russia.

“It shows how quickly displacement can happen and is reflective, I think, of the violence against civilians by Russia,” said Sunil Varghese, policy director at the International Refugee Assistance Project. 

Russia has faced accusation of war crimes for its bombing of schools and hospitals while civilians have been caught in the crosshairs as cities are leveled.

Data from the UN on Wednesday counts 5,121 civilian casualties in the country, with 2,224 killed and 2,897 injured.

The bulk of those leaving — at least 90 percent, according to the U.N. — are women and children, as men aged 18 to 65 have been barred from leaving Ukraine.

“Five million people have now fled Ukraine. They have left behind their homes and families. Many would do anything, and some even risk going back, to see their loved ones,” UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi wrote on Twitter Wednesday.

“But every new attack shatters their hopes. Only an end to the war can pave the way for rebuilding their lives.”

The refugee totals have now surpassed figures first forecasted by U.S. intelligence agencies, which predicted a Russian invasion of Ukraine could lead to anywhere from 1 million to 5 million refugees. 

While the majority are expected to remain in Europe, President Biden has committed to taking in 100,000 Ukrainian refugees, a goal that would be met over many years rather than the immediate future.

The U.S. has also offered temporary protected status from deportation to Ukrainians already in the country — a move expected to aid 60,000 Ukrainians.

The Biden administration has also not subjected them to Title 42, which allows for quick expulsion of migrants at the U.S. border without allowing them to seek asylum.

It’s a detail that advocates say highlights issues with a policy that has denied asylum to many in Latin America and the Caribbean while they anxiously await details for how the Biden administration will ramp up processing of refugees still in Ukraine.

“Ukraine’s neighbors have done a remarkable job welcoming refugees but all countries, including the U.S., need to do their part. While the U.S. has stated that it plans to welcome up to 100,000 people fleeing Ukraine, we have yet to see any plan put into place,” Vignarajah said. 

“Admitting people through the U.S. Southern Border on an ad hoc basis is not a real solution – but it does highlight the hypocrisy of Title 42.”

Updated at 12:12 p.m.

Tags Biden Joe Biden Refugee crisis Russia Russo-Ukrainian War Ukraine Ukraine crisis Ukraine invasion Ukraine refugees Ukraine war Ukrainian refugee crisis

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