Almost 3.2 million people have fled Ukraine since the start of the Russo-Ukrainian War three weeks ago, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) announced on Thursday. Based on reporting from receiving countries, the actual number appears to be more than 4 million, but at least part of the discrepancy could be due to the double-counting of people who have moved through multiple countries.
Most of the refugees from Ukraine are women and children, and the elderly, since Ukrainian men ages 18 to 60 are prohibited from leaving since they can be pressed into military service fighting the Russians following Ukraine’s putting martial law into effect.
UNHCR head Filippo Grandi has called the Ukrainian situation the fastest-growing refugee crisis in Europe since World War II.
Ukraine, second only to Russia in land area among European states, has an estimated population of 44 million, making it the seventh-largest in Europe. It is made up of 24 regions, known as oblasts. It is bordered by Russia and Belarus, which is operating in concert with Russia's invasion, and Poland, Slovakia, Hungary, Romania, and Moldova. These countries are some of Europe’s poorest.
Poland has received the most refugees so far – more than 1.9 million. This is, in part, because the two countries share a border. As of Tuesday, about 1.8 million refugees had crossed this shared border into Poland which is, NPR pointed out, was equivalent to the population of Poland's largest city, its capital Warsaw. The Polish people have opened their hearts to the refugees but many cities, including major urban areas and the cities along the border, have reached their limit. Because of this, Polish officials are meeting with officials from other countries in the European Union for help. Poland is now offering free transportation to other EU countries including, according to NPR, eight daily trains to Germany. Poland is also asking the EU for money to help it take care of the refugees.
Meanwhile, another border country, Moldova, which has the largest concentration of refugees per capita according to reports, also is calling for international help in dealing with the numbers arriving. Moldova, with a population of just over 3 million, has so far taken in over 340,000 refugees, and the country has one of Europe’s lowest gross domestic products per capita, according to The New York Times.
The European Union activated its Temporary Protection Directive days after Russia's invasion, which gives refugees from Ukraine permission to live and work in the EU for up to three years. The United Kingdom, which left the EU in 2020, is allowing Ukrainian refugees in under its family reunification system and the Homes for Ukraine plan, launched on Tuesday, under which people in the UK will be able to invite an individual or family to stay with them rent-free, or in another property, for at least six months and then allow them to remain in the country and work for three years. There is no cap on the numbers of refugees let in under these programs, according to the BBC.
Since the start of the Russo-Ukrainian War, Ireland lifted its visa requirements for Ukrainian citizens.
“This will streamline and support the swift exit of both the Ukrainian family members of Irish citizens and the family members of people from Ukraine who are resident in Ireland. It will apply as an emergency measure to all Ukrainians traveling to Ireland,” the country’s Department of Justice said in a statement. Ukrainians entering Ireland will have 90 days from arrival to “regularize” their position in Ireland.
The United States has only admitted several hundred Ukrainian refugees since the start of the crisis, Reuters reported. It also has announced it will grant Temporary Protected Status to an estimated 75,000 Ukrainians who were already in the US at the start of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Biden Administration officials since the start of the war have said that the US would accept refugees if it became necessary but indicated that most of the Ukrainians should be cared for in Europe, which is where they think the refugees will want to be.
The United States admitted 514 Ukrainian refugees in January and February, prior to the Russian invasion. The refugee ceiling for the US for this year is 125,000, with 10,000 places available for refugees from Europe and Central Asia, though this reportedly can be increased.
The US most recently began working to resettle Afghan refugees after it withdrew from Afghanistan in August. The resettlement process can take years, according to the report. Some Democratic lawmakers have called on the Biden Administration to allow Ukrainians with family in the US to be admitted on a "humanitarian parole" fast track.
Canada, which has pledged to accept an unlimited number of Ukrainian refugees, announced late last week that it would fast-track the applications of Ukrainian refugees to the Immigration Refugees and Citizenship Canada program. In addition, Ukrainians already in Canada on a temporary basis can apply to extend their status as visitors, students, or workers. Canada also announced its Canada-Ukraine Authorization for Emergency Travel, under which Ukrainians will be able to come to Canada, pending background checks and security screenings, and stay and work for at least two years.
The United Arab Emirates announced earlier this month that Ukrainian nationals who entered the UAE prior to March 3, will continue to be allowed visa-free entry after previously announcing that the policy would be canceled. The UAE is offering Ukrainians who arrived before March 3, to stay in the country for up to a year without being subject to fines. Those arriving after March 3 will have visa-free entry for 30 days, as was the policy previously. Some 15,000 Ukrainians live in the UAE and about 250,000 visit the country as tourists each year.
Israel meanwhile is preparing plans to absorb as new immigrants up to 100,000 Ukrainians and Russians who qualify for citizenship under the Law of Return. It is thought that around 200,000 Ukrainians alone quality under the Law of Return, but that not all of them will want to immigrate to the Jewish state. In addition, it is preparing to take in refugees temporarily, for the duration of the conflict. On Thursday, the Population and Immigration Authority released data showing that 11,390 Ukrainian refugees, including those eligible for citizenship under the Law of Return, had arrived in Israel since the Russian invasion began. Israel has made several missteps as the Ukrainian refugee crisis has unfolded, including requiring money deposits to ensure that refugees not eligible for citizenship will leave the country and turning away some refugees without identification. The Interior Ministry last week announced limits on the number of Ukrainian refugees who are not eligible for automatic immigration that would be permitted to enter of 25,000 people, with 20,000 of those slots taken up by Ukrainian citizens who were present in Israel before the outbreak of fighting, most of them without any legal status. On Sunday, Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked announced that any Ukrainians with friends and family in Israel would be allowed to enter the country and remain until the end of the war.
The United Nations also estimates that some 1.85 million Ukrainians have been internally displaced inside the war-torn country. Some 200,000 of them have fled to the city of Lviv in the west of the country and, as of this writing, are not under attack by the Russian military. Still, the UN High Commission for Refugees has estimated that some 12 million people inside of Ukraine will need assistance.