UN warns of Ukraine refugee 'humanitarian crisis'

The flow of people in Ukraine fleeing across the western borders has settled at around 40,000 a day over the past week. PHOTO: AFP

GENEVA (AFP) - The United Nations said on Thursday (March 31) the refugee exodus from Ukraine was a "massive humanitarian crisis" that was growing by the second, after another 40,000 fled the country in 24 hours.

The flow of people fleeing across the western borders to escape the Russian assault on Ukraine has settled at around 40,000 a day over the past week.

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the UN refugee agency, said 4,059,105 Ukrainians had fled across the country's borders since the Feb 24 invasion, 39,818 more than Wednesday's numbers, which saw the four million mark surpassed.

"We are confronted with the realities of a massive humanitarian crisis that is growing by the second," said UNHCR, noting also the millions displaced within Ukraine and the 13 million estimated to be stranded in affected areas or unable to leave.

Women and children account for 90 per cent of those who have fled. Half of those are children. Ukrainian men aged 18 to 60 are eligible for military call-up and cannot leave.

Unicef, the UN children's agency, said more than half of the country's estimated 7.5 million children have been displaced - 2.5 million internally and two million abroad.

"As the number of children fleeing their homes continues to climb, we must remember that every single one of them needs protection, education, safety and support," said Unicef head Catherine Russell.

The UN's International Organisation for Migration (IOM) said that in addition to Ukrainian refugees, more than 204,000 non-Ukrainians living, studying or working in the country have also left.

UN human rights chief Michelle Bachelet said it was vital to extend a welcome "to all who have fled, without discrimination".

As at March 16, about 6.48 million people were estimated to be internally displaced within Ukraine, an IOM survey showed.

"They are more than statistics. They are people whose lives have been upended by the war," said IOM.

Before the Russian invasion five weeks ago, Ukraine had a population of 37 million in the regions under government control, excluding Russia-annexed Crimea and the pro-Russian separatist regions in the east.

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Here is a breakdown of how many Ukrainian refugees have fled to neighbouring countries, according to UNHCR:

Poland

Nearly six out of 10 Ukrainian refugees - 2,362,044 so far - have crossed into Poland.

More than 1.1 million children have arrived in Poland, said Unicef.

Many people who cross into Ukraine's immediate western neighbours travel on to other states in Europe's Schengen open-borders zone.

Romania

About 616,592 Ukrainians have entered the European Union member state, including a large number who crossed over from Moldova, wedged between Romania and Ukraine.

The vast majority are thought to have gone on to other countries.

Moldova

The Moldovan border is the nearest one to the major port city of Odessa.

About 388,837 Ukrainians had crossed into the non-EU state, one of the poorest in Europe.

Refugees from Ukraine enter the Republic of Moldova at Palanca-Maiaky-Udobne border crossing point on March 30, 2022. PHOTO: AFP

Hungary

A total of 368,807 Ukrainians have entered Hungary.

Russia

Another 350,632 refugees have sought shelter in Russia.

In addition, 113,000 people crossed into Russia from the separatist-held pro-Russian regions of Donetsk and Luhansk in eastern Ukraine between Feb 21 and 23.

Slovakia

A total of 283,824 people have crossed Ukraine's shortest border into Slovakia.

Belarus

Another 11,821 refugees have made it north to Russia's close ally Belarus.

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