A tale of 'cruelty' as Ukraine refugee exodus nears 3.6 million

Refugees arriving from Ukraine wait at a centre in Berlin, on March 11, 2022. PHOTO: AFP

PRZEMYSL, Poland/SIRET, Romania (REUTERS) - Kateryna Mytkevich endured four weeks living with the fear of planes, rockets and missiles raining on her native city of Chernihiv in northern Ukraine before deciding to flee with her child.

"I have never seen such cruelty before," said the 38-year-old, speaking from the Polish city of Przemysl, a transit hub near the border with Ukraine. "Chernihiv is fully destroyed, they are approaching Kyiv. Even Poland."

"There is no electricity, no gas, no mobile connection in Chernihiv. We came through Kyiv, and we didn't know whether Kyiv was still standing," she said, breaking into tears.

Mytkevich is one of the almost 3.6 million refugees the United Nations says have fled Ukraine so far, with more expected as the conflict showed no sign of abating. About 6.5 million are internally displaced within the country.

Most chose to stay in eastern Europe, where a public outpouring of support and volunteering has helped the relief effort.

"It took us three days to get here, because we had to detour," said Mytkevich. "We had to pass checkpoints, some areas are mined, Russian troops are in some areas and we were with children."

In the latest move to help cope with the number of people arriving, the Czech government was meeting on Wednesday (March 23) to decide on state contributions for people who house Ukrainian refugees in their home or vacant apartments.

It would join Britain in offering to pay citizens who open their homes to the refugees.

"We are managing (the flow of refugees) in the Czech Republic, we are managing it thanks to the great effort and dedication of state authorities, regions, municipalities, a number of non-profit organisations, and especially citizens who have offered their homes, their work, their time," Prime Minister Petr Fiala told parliament on Tuesday.

At Siret, a Romanian border crossing with Ukraine, refugees continued to come through, by foot, by car or by bus, but in fewer numbers than they did in the weeks previously.

They were greeted by Romanian firefighters and volunteers - including one dressed as Snow White to entertain smaller children - who gave them information about their onward journeys.

While some Ukrainians are moving to western Europe, the numbers are smaller so far, with Germany recording 239,000 Ukrainian refugees as of Wednesday, up from some 197,000 last Friday, less than in the Czech Republic, which has registered 300,000 refugees.

In Przemysl, Anna Zhorova, 21, was planning to join a friend in Lithuania, together with her two sisters and her nephew after fleeing Kramatorsk in eastern Ukraine. They left their parents behind. "They did not want to leave," she said.

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