One million people have fled Ukraine in a week after Russia invaded the country, the United Nations refugee agency has said.
It adds that some women are leaving their children at the border to return home and continue fighting for their country with their husbands.
Christine Pirovolakis, UNHCR senior external relations officer, said more than half of those who had fled the country had been received by Poland.
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“It is women, children and the elderly that have been escaping and seeking protection with literally only small pieces of luggage and the clothes on their backs,” she told Sky News.
DJ Nastia on her escape from Ukraine
She said it was proving to be a “challenge”, with psychological support being offered to women and children as they cross borders “because they have been traumatised by what is happening”.
Asked how many children are being left at the border by their mothers, she replied: “We don’t know, but the UNHCR is at the border and is looking after all unaccompanied children that are crossing and ensuring that they are protected, that the national authorities are looking to put them in protection services and that they are being cared for.
“The next step will of course be family reunion, and in these circumstances, the situation is changing all the time.”
She said the situation is also dire within Ukraine: “There are one million people who have been internally displaced amid heavy fighting and there are a lot of casualties.
“People remain trapped – and for us, we have prepositions and supplies within Ukraine but it has been really difficult to get those emergency supplies to people in need,” she said.
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‘It’s time for guns to fall silent’
The agency has cautioned that the outflows are far from finished and has predicted that as many as four million people could eventually leave the country.
“In just seven days we have witnessed the exodus of one million refugees from Ukraine to neighbouring countries,” UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi wrote on Twitter.
“For many millions more, inside Ukraine, it’s time for guns to fall silent, so that life-saving humanitarian assistance can be provided.”
Fighting continues on multiple fronts across Ukraine, forcing Ukrainians to flee into neighbouring European countries like Poland, Slovakia, Romania and Hungary amid ongoing Russian attacks.
Key developments in the Ukraine crisis:
• Ukraine’s president Zelenskyy has claimed nearly 9,000 Russian soldiers have been killed so far
• Russia says 498 of its soldiers have been killed and 1,597 wounded
• Paralympic bosses make U-turn and ban Russian and Belarusian athletes
• Five children among those detained in Moscow for laying flowers at Ukraine embassy
• International Criminal Court opens investigation into possible war crimes
• A second round of talks between Russia and Ukraine is expected later
Families have been torn apart as women and children are given priority at congested border crossings while many Ukrainian men – fathers, brothers, husbands – of fighting age (18-60) have been urged to stay behind and fight for their country.
‘Saying goodbye to my husband was like a scene from a film’
Tearful evacuee left husband behind
Kseniya Khizhnyak, fled her home in Kyiv and is currently with her daughters, aged eight and six, in western Ukraine. Her husband returned to join the army.
She told Sky News: “I thought the hardest moment was when we were leaving our apartment in Kyiv – and I don’t know if I will ever come back there – but saying goodbye to my husband was much harder. This is not something that normal people should do.
“It was like a scene from some films, when a woman says goodbye to a man and then she doesn’t know if she’s ever going to see him again, and that is what is happening to my life, so it’s something unbelievable.
“I don’t know what is going to happen to him, but I know that was his duty to go there, to go back.”
She said of her girls: “I’m not sure they realise what is going on actually, because we are telling them it is war, but for them actually, it is not something they can really imagine or realise.”