Slovakia, Romania preparing for possible refugee flow from Ukraine

People evacuated from the self-proclaimed Donetsk People's Republic sit in a bus awaiting their journey to Russia, on Feb 20, 2022. PHOTO: AFP

PRAGUE (REUTERS) - Slovakia is preparing its armed forces to help handle any possible flow of refugees from Ukraine after Russia's recognition of two separatist regions escalated the crisis, Defence Minister Jaroslav Nad said on Tuesday (Feb 22).

Romania, meanwhile, said it was preparing to receive up to half a million potential refugees from Ukraine.

Nato said on Tuesday the alliance believed that Russia was still planning a major assault on Ukraine while the European Union agreed new sanctions against Moscow.

Countries in Eastern Europe have been making preparations for potentially hundreds of thousands of people fleeing Ukraine in the event of a Russian invasion.

Slovakia, which borders Ukraine in the east and is both a member of Nato and the European Union, so far has not reported any increased activity at its frontier.

Nad said Slovakia would have enough capacity to deal with any refugee influx and although he said it was still impossible to make any estimates yet, the country would be ready for any developments.

"We are in the process of increasing combat readiness but the primary reason is the potential threat of migration and not the threat of war," he said after a meeting of Slovakia's state security council.

Nad said security forces were also seeing more cyber threats and hybrid activity coming from Russia. Slovak President Zuzana Caputova said on Tuesday that cases of disinformation and propaganda from Russia were rising in Slovakia.

Slovakia has backed EU allies in measures like sanctions to try to deter a Russian offensive in Ukraine.

Russia's parliament approved treaties with two breakaway regions a day after President Vladimir Putin said he was recognising the independence of the enclaves in eastern Ukraine, which adjoin Russia and have been controlled by Russian-backed rebel forces since 2014.

In Romania, Defence Minister Vasile Dincu said the country has planned for over 500,000 refugees.

"There is a plan prepared for all large cities, there are areas for this near the borders," he said.

Remote video URL

Romania, a European Union and Nato member state, has a 600km border with Ukraine, but saw relatively few Ukrainian refugees in 2014 after Russia annexed Crimea.

"We are also not expecting a major influx coming here now, but one never knows," Dincu said.

Earlier this month, Interior Minister Lucian Bode said authorities were working on a plan which included temporary mobile camps in northeastern Romanian border counties.

The Romanian Coalition for Migrant and Refugee Rights said last week that clarity and transparency were needed to prepare for a "potential deterioration of the situation in Ukraine and subsequent rise in numbers of migrants at Romania's northern border".

In late January, Poland said it was bracing for up to one million Ukrainian migrants.

Hungary said it could take care of tens of thousands of possible refugees.

Remote video URL

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.