Millions of refugees are fleeing Ukraine. Where are they going?


Millions of refugees are fleeing Ukraine in the midst of Russian attacks. They are greater in number than the population of almost all U.S. cities, including Chicago.

“I have worked in refugee crises for almost 40 years, and I have rarely seen such an incredibly fast-rising exodus of people,” said Filippo Grandi, the high commissioner of the United Nations’ refugee agency.

The nations surrounding Ukraine have all received refugees, the majority of whom have gone to Poland, the third-largest Slavic country after Russia and Ukraine. Poland, Romania, Hungary, Slovakia, Russia and Moldova have each received more than 100,000 Ukrainian refugees.

Staying in a war-torn country is dangerous in the face of Russian military strikes and shelling, but so is the trek to leave. A Ukrainian 6-year-old who arrived in Poland described his five-day journey to the border as “bombs, bombs, bombs.”

The war in Ukraine has injured at least 1,333 civilians and killed at least 816 since Russian attacks began on Feb. 24, according to United Nations estimates, though the world body expects casualties are higher than the confirmed tolls.

Many Ukrainian refugees don’t stay in the countries where they initially sought asylum. For example, as of March 16 about two-thirds of people who entered Moldova from Ukraine had left the country and continued on to Romania, according to the International Organization for Migration. Since borders are open within the Schengen Area of Europe – which includes Poland, Slovakia, Hungary and most Western European countries – it is more difficult to track where refugees go if and when they leave these countries.

While the refugees have been welcomed in many towns and cities, some places are reaching capacity. The mayor of Krakow, one of Poland’s largest cities, said it’s reaching its limit in terms of the number of people it can accommodate, and it looks to direct refugees to places outside the city. The prime minister of the Czech Republic, which does not border Ukraine but has received more than 270,000 Ukrainian refugees, has said of his country, “We have to admit that we are at the very edge when we can accept without problems.”

In addition to those leaving the country, the International Organization for Migration estimated as of Wednesday that nearly 6.5 million people were displaced within Ukraine.