Escaping Putin: Pictures reveal harsh reality for Ukrainians fleeing Russian onslaught

·5-min read
An Afghan family, who once fled the war in Afghanistan, wait to board a bus bound for a refugee centre, after fleeing the Russian invasion in Ukraine, in Medyka, Poland, February 28, 2022. REUTERS/Bryan Woolston
An Afghan family, who once fled the war in Afghanistan, wait to board a bus bound for a refugee centre in Poland after fleeing the Russian invasion in Ukraine. (Reuters)

Hundreds of thousands of Ukrainian refugees have made long and difficult journeys in freezing conditions after being forced from their homes by the Russian invasion.

More than half a million people have fled to neighbouring countries in five days, with the UN warning that millions could end up displaced by the conflict.

With men who are eligible for conscription age prevented from leaving the country, groups of mainly women and children have arrived at borders in eastern Poland, Slovakia and Hungary, and in northern and northeastern Romania.

Temporary camps have been set up, where people can shelter and begin the asylum process.

Waiting times to cross borders range from a few hours at small crossings to several days at busier ones such as Medyka in Poland.

People who have fled the Russian invasion in Ukraine, clamour to board a bus bound for a refugee centre established in Przemysl, in Medyka, Poland, February 28, 2022. REUTERS/Bryan Woolston
People who have fled the Russian invasion in Ukraine, clamour to board a bus bound for a refugee centre in Medyka, Poland, on Monday. (Reuters)
People fleeing Russian invasion of Ukraine arrive at a temporary camp in Przemysl, Poland, February 28, 2022. REUTERS/Yara Nardi
Refugees are braving sub-zero temperatures to flee Ukraine into Poland. (Reuters)

At Medyka, officials loaded new arrivals into tour buses before ferrying them to a reception centre in the nearby town of Przemysl where friends, relatives and volunteers waited.

New arrivals huddled in blankets around fires as they waited in the snow.

"I took a train from Kyiv to Lviv to a point where the taxi put us," one Ukrainian woman said. "I walked the last 50 kilometres."

"The queues are huge," said Polish prime minister's chief of staff Michal Dworczyk.

"If we count the functioning border points there are certainly over a quarter of a million people at the borders."

Romanian interior minister Lucian Bode said people were queuing for 20 to 30 hours on the Ukrainian side to get into Romania.

People fleeing Russian invasion of Ukraine arrive at a temporary camp in Przemysl, Poland, February 28, 2022. REUTERS/Yara Nardi
People fleeing Russian invasion of Ukraine arrive at a temporary camp in Przemysl, Poland. (Reuters)
A woman fleeing Russian invasion of Ukraine holds a dog at a temporary camp in Przemysl, Poland, February 28, 2022. REUTERS/Yara Nardi
A woman fleeing Russian invasion of Ukraine holds a dog at a temporary camp in Przemysl, Poland. (Reuters)
People from Ukraine rest at a refugee shelter, after Russia launched a massive military operation against Ukraine, in Tiszabecs, Hungary February 28, 2022. REUTERS/Bernadett Szabo
Children resting on the floor of a refugee camp in Tiszabecs, Hungary. (Reuters)
A mother fleeing from Ukraine breastfeeds her son at Nyugati station, after Russia launched a massive military operation against Ukraine, in Budapest, Hungary, February 27, 2022. REUTERS/Marton Monus REFILE - CORRECTING TRAIN STATION
This mother feeds her son at Nyugati station in Budapest, Hungary, as she awaits news on refuge for her and her family. (Reuters)

The UK government has announced measures allowing people who are settled in the UK to be able to bring their Ukrainian immediate family members to join them.

Priti Patel told the House of Commons on Monday: “Where family members of British nationals do not meet the usual eligibility criteria but pass security checks, UK visas and immigration will give them the permission to enter the UK outside the rules for 12 months and is prioritising all applications.

The home secretary said the first phase of the “bespoke humanitarian route” being created for Ukrainians to enter the UK would allow around 100,000 people to come to “seek sanctuary”.

Patel ruled out a visa waiver for Ukrainians fleeing the conflict, citing fears that Moscow’s troops and extremists could seek to exploit the system to come to the UK.

Mothers fleeing with their children from Ukraine stand at Nyugati station, after Russia launched a massive military operation against Ukraine, in Budapest, Hungary, February 27, 2022. REUTERS/Marton Monus REFILE - CORRECTING TRAIN STATION
A group of mothers fleeing with their children at Nyugati station, Hungary, after Russia launched its massive military operation against Ukraine. (Reuters)

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A child fleeing Russian invasion of Ukraine looks on as she stands next to a pile of clothes at a temporary camp in Przemysl, Poland, February 28, 2022. REUTERS/Yara Nardi
A child fleeing Russian invasion of Ukraine looks on as she stands next to a pile of clothes at a temporary camp in Przemysl, Poland. (Reuters)

The European Union has said it will grant Ukrainians who flee the war the right to stay and work in the 27-nation bloc for up to three years.

At least 300,000 Ukrainian refugees have entered the EU so far, and the bloc needs to prepare for millions more, senior EU and French officials said, while thanking volunteers at the borders for helping those who arrive.

A woman attends to a baby at a shelter for people who fled from Ukraine in a school's gym, after Russia launched a massive military operation against Ukraine, in Ubla, Slovakia, February 27, 2022. REUTERS/Radovan Stoklasa
A woman attends to a baby at a shelter for Ukrainian refugees in a school gym in Ubla, Slovakia. (Reuters)
Volunteers wait with information leaflet for people from Ukraine arriving from Poland at the Berlin main train station Hauptbahnhof, after Russia launched a massive military operation against Ukraine, in Berlin, Germany, February 27, 2022. REUTERS/Fabrizio Bensch
Volunteers at the Berlin Hauptbahnhof wait to greet people arriving from Poland having fled Ukraine. (Reuters)

The Russian onslaught continued on Monday, as Moscow's forces met with determined resistance from Ukrainian troops and civilians.

Shells fell in the northern city of Chernihiv overnight, according to the Ukrainian State Emergency Service, while blasts were also reported in the capital Kyiv and the second city Kharkiv.

The Russian Rouble plunged 28% n early trading on Monday - a new record low - after the West imposed ever tougher sanctions on Moscow.

People wait in a parking lot for buses to arrive with refugees to help organise transportation and accommodation to different cities in Poland and other countries after Russia launched a massive military operation against Ukraine, in Przemysl, Poland February 26, 2022. REUTERS/Kacper Pempel
Volunteers in Poland wait for buses of refugees to arrive to help organise transportation and accommodation to different cities. (Reuters)
Refugees wait for help in a parking lot as transportation and accommodation are being organised  for them to reach different cities in Poland and other countries as well after Russia launched a massive military operation against Ukraine, in Przemysl, Poland February 26, 2022. REUTERS/Kacper Pempel
Refugees wait for help in a parking lot in Przemysl, Poland, as transportation and accommodation are organised for them to be moved across Poland and the EU. (Reuters)

The United Nations held a rare emergency meeting of its General Assembly in New York over the crisis on Monday afternoon.

Talks between Russian and Ukrainian officials were held on the Belarusian border on Monday, Moscow said, as Russia's diplomatic and economic isolation deepened.

Britain announced new sanctions against Russian banks to heap pressure on Russia.

Boris Johnson said Putin had made a “colossal mistake” in invading Ukraine, and praised the country for its fierce resistance and for proving Moscow wrong to think tanks would be “garlanded with roses”.