At the Polish border, tens of thousands of Ukrainian refugees

MEDYKA, Poland – Carrying her 3-year-old son, who has suffered from severe cancer, a 25-year-old Ukrainian mother staggered to Poland on Friday.

Now, she is safe from the bombs and missiles launched by President Vladimir V. Putin but is disappointed to be separated from her husband by Ukraine’s order that all healthy men stay to fight. the Russians.

Olha Zapotochna, one of tens of thousands of Ukrainians, almost all women and children, who have flocked to Poland, Hungary and other neighboring countries, said: “He is not only my husband but also my life. live and be my support. “I understand that our country needs fighting men, but I need him more,” she added, patting her groaning sick child on the head, Arthur.

The exodus from Ukraine accelerated on Friday as fears spread that the Kremlin intended to impose its will far beyond just the east of the country, the scene of which Mr. Putin claimed, without evidence. , was a “genocide” against ethnic Russians.

More than 50,000 Ukrainians have fled the country so far, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Filippo Grandi, said on Friday, and the agency believes around 100,000 have been displaced.

Poland’s border service said 29,000 people had arrived from Ukraine on Thursday and many more on Friday, resulting in waits of more than 12 hours at some points of passage. More than 26,000 people have left Ukraine for Moldova, and 10,000 more for Romania.

Among those who fled into Poland on Friday across the border at Medyka were ethnic Russians like Oxana Aleksova, who were appalled by the Kremlin’s lies, gratuitous violence and brutal propaganda. as well as their Ukrainian compatriots.

Ms. Aleksova, 49, whose ethnic Ukrainian husband, a retired police officer, stayed behind, hiding in Poland with her 11-year-old daughter after waiting all night in a stream of pedestrians and vehicles trying to enter. scene into Poland – a line she said. stretched for miles.

Her hometown of Khmelnytskyi, in western Ukraine, was not directly hit, she said, but Russian bombs fell on a military airfield in a nearby town.

She predicts that the Russian military “will of course win in the end” because it has a lot more troops and better equipment than Ukraine. But Putin’s goal, she added, “is not just to defeat Ukraine, but to make the whole world fear him.”

Whether he will succeed with that score is still an open question. But his tacit threats to use nuclear weapons against any foreign state that intervened on Ukraine’s behalf reinforced an already solid consensus among NATO members – even most belligerent, anti-Russian members, like the Baltics and Poland – to keep their armies away from Ukraine.

However, as Ukrainians overran the border into Poland, the Warsaw government on Friday announced that an “ammunition convoy” was heading in the opposite direction into Ukraine. Polish Defense Minister Mariusz Błaszczak said: “We support the Ukrainians and we firmly oppose Russian aggression.

Also entering Ukraine was a small group of men who said they were returning home to fight. “We will defeat Russia,” shouted a middle-aged returnee as he passed Polish border guards towards Ukrainian territory carrying a black duffel bag.

Right behind them is Viktor Dick, a German on his way to Kyiv to try to rescue his pregnant Ukrainian wife and their three children. He looks scared but says he must risk the perilous journey to the besieged capital to save his family.

Up to 5 million Ukrainians could flee to neighboring countries if the war drags on, confronting the European Union, which was already facing a migrant crisis in 2015 involving 1.5 million people. – with another and possibly much larger stream of foreigners.

But in contrast to the previous wave and a crisis last year involving refugees going through Belarus into Poland and Lithuania, Europe’s most migrant-hostile governments in Poland and Hungary see general welcomed the Ukrainians.

When migrants from the Middle East and Afghanistan tried to sneak across the border from Belarus last year, Polish security forces hit them back with batons. At least a dozen people died in the forests along the border.

However, refugees from Ukraine were greeted with welcoming smiles, hot drinks and transport to the nearest railway station. Police officers handed out fruit, donuts and bread to Ukrainians camping in the waiting room.

Unlike migrants who were beaten back by Polish soldiers from the border last year, Ukrainians, who are largely Catholic and white, have the legal right to enter Poland and other European Union countries without need visa. Almost a million Ukrainians already live in Poland.

And the suffering of Ukrainians at the hands of Russia has aroused sympathy in formerly communist regions of Eastern and Central Europe, where people have bitter memories of living under Moscow’s yoke.

Poland’s populist right-wing government, led by the Law and Justice party, was at the vanguard of efforts to fight the European Union’s free migration policies in 2015, as was Hungary’s prime minister. , Viktor Orban, but is currently organizing reception centers. and temporary housing for Ukrainians.

Deputy Defense Minister Marcin Ociepa said: “We will take in as many refugees as needed.

Ludmyla Viytovych, who arrived on Friday with her two children from Lviv, a city near the Polish border, said she was surprised to find Poles so welcoming, even though her homeland has hitherto been deserted. not infuriated by the Kremlin.

“It’s mostly calm now, but nobody knows what Russia’s next target will be,” she said.

Lviv, Ukraine, long a bastion of Ukrainian patriotic fervor, has become a major transit point for people fleeing the capital Kyiv and further west into the European Union.

However, while Kyiv residents flock to the West, young men to the West flock to the opposite direction, their bravery and patriotic pride often mixed with deep anxiety. about what awaits them if and when they reach the front lines.

Framed by the Art Nouveau magnificence of Lviv central train station, tense soldiers smoke cigarettes and women kiss their men goodbye on the platform, as if reenacting scenes movies from what, until Monday, seemed to have passed an era.

Just across the border from Lviv, at the railway station in the Polish town of Przemysl, the last train from Kyiv arrived seven hours late, putting about 500 people, mostly women and children, on one the platform lacks light. Despite its sleek and modern look, the train took almost 24 hours to travel just 350 miles from the Ukrainian capital to the eastern edge of Poland.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has not only plunged Europe into its biggest land war since the end of World War II in 1945, but it has left European politicians and many ordinary people feeling lost and out of place. strangely.

Zapotochna, a mother of a sick child, said she and her husband decided to take their son to safety after a Russian missile destroyed an airport near their home in the town of Ivano-Frankovsk in southwestern Ukraine. on Monday morning. Her car trip to the Polish border took 28 hours.

“I hope we can go back. I need to come back. This is not my country,” she said, as her mother-in-law was crying, a Polish resident, who greeted her at the border, tried to comfort the sick baby.

“I hope we are still living in the 21st century,” Ms. Zapotochna said.

Reporting was contributed by Marc Santora of Lviv, Ukraine, and Anatol Magdziarz of Warsaw. At the Polish border, tens of thousands of Ukrainian refugees

Fry Electronics Team

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