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2.6 million flee Ukraine war: United Nations

GENEVA (AFP) – The number of refugees fleeing Ukraine since the Russian invasion two weeks ago is now nearly 2.6 million, the United Nations (UN) said yesterday.

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees said there were 2,597,543 refugees who had fled Ukraine so far, in the latest update yesterday afternoon.

The figure was 92,650 higher than the last count on Friday.

This is the largest exodus of refugees in Europe since World War II, according to UN refugee agency chief Filippo Grandi.

Four million people could leave Ukraine to flee the war, initial UN estimates said, a figure which will likely be revised upwards, according to the UN refugee agency.

Before the conflict, Ukraine had a population of some 37 million in the regions under its control, excluding Russia-annexed Crimea and the pro-Russian separatist regions in the east.

Poland is hosting over half the Ukrainian refugees with 1,575,703 crossing into the country since the February 24 invasion, according to the UNHCR.

A Ukrainian refugee family selects clothes at a situation centre in Sofia. PHOTO: AFP

Polish border guards said yesterday that 1,596,000 people had arrived from Ukraine since the war began.

A second wave of refugee arrivals seems to be ebbing slowly. On Friday their number was 76,200 – a 12.5-per-cent fall compared to a day earlier.

Tens of thousands of people are also entering Ukraine from Poland – mostly people returning to fight but also others seeking to care for elderly relatives or returning to bring their families to Poland.

Before the crisis, around 1.5 million Ukrainians lived in Poland, the vast majority working in the EU nation.

Hungary is hosting 235,576 refugees so far, according to UNHCR figures from Friday.

It has five border posts with Ukraine and several frontier towns such as Zahony where local authorities have turned public buildings into emergency centres for the refugees.

A total of 185,673 have entered Slovakia from Ukraine, according to the UNHCR. Slovak authorities said 9,581 people entered the country on Friday.

As of Thursday, 106,000 people from Ukraine had sought shelter in Russia.

The UN refugee agency said 96,000 people had passed through the pro-Russian Donetsk and Lugansk regions between February 18 and 23. Many Ukrainians fleeing their country transit through Moldova, a small nation of 2.6 million people and one of the poorest in Europe, to continue onwards to Romania or Hungary.

The UNHCR said 104,929 refugee arrivals were recorded as of Thursday.

The UNHCR has not updated it statistics for Romania but 85,000 refugees had been recorded in the country as of March 8. Many refugees travel on to other nations from Romania.

Romanian authorities on Friday said 365,000 people had entered the country since February 24 and a little over 280,000 had exited.

The UNHCR said about 304,000 people have travelled on to other European countries.