At the Polish border, tens of thousands of Ukrainian refugees

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At the Polish border, tens of thousands of Ukrainian refugees

MEDYKA, Poland — Raising her 3-year-old son, who was critically ill with cancer, a 25-year-old Ukrainian mother was stung in Poland on Friday.

She was now protected from bombs and rockets dropped by President Vladimir V. Putin, but was dismayed at being separated from her husband by a Ukrainian order that all able-bodied men were left behind to oppose the Russians.

“He is not just my husband, but my life and my support,” said Olha Zapotochna, one of thousands of Ukrainians, almost all women and children, who have entered Poland, Hungary and other neighboring countries since Monday. “I understand that our country needs men to fight, but I need them more,” she said, patting her sick child, Arthur.

The exodus from Ukraine gained momentum on Friday as fears spread that the Kremlin intends to enforce its will in the east of the country, with Mr Putin claiming there is no evidence it is a “genocide” of ethnic Russians.

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

Poland’s border service said 29,000 people had arrived from Ukraine on Thursday, and many more on Friday, waiting more than 12 hours at some crossing points. More than 26,000 have fled Ukraine to Moldova and more than 10,000 to Romania.

Among those who fled across the border in Medica into Poland on Friday were ethnic Russians like Oksana Aleksova, who were as frightened by the Kremlin’s lies, unprovoked violence and crude propaganda as their Ukrainian compatriots.

Ms Aleksova, 49, whose ethnic Ukrainian husband, a retired police officer, was left behind, fled to Poland with her 11-year-old daughter after waiting all night in a line of pedestrians and vehicles to enter Poland – A line he said stretches for miles.

His hometown of Khmelnitsky in western Ukraine, he said, was not directly killed, but Russian bombs fell on a military airfield in a nearby town.

Russia’s army, he predicted, “will surely eventually win” because it has much more troops and better equipment than Ukraine. But Mr. Putin’s goal, he said, “is not just to defeat Ukraine but to intimidate the whole world from them.”

Whether he succeeds on that score is still an open question. But their inherent dangers of using nuclear weapons against any foreign nation intervening on Ukraine’s behalf strengthen an already solid consensus among NATO members – even in countries such as the Baltic states and Poland. Its most fanatical, anti-Russian members – to keep its troops out. Ukraine.

As Ukrainians crossed the border into Poland, however, the government in Warsaw announced on Friday that “a convoy with ammunition” had flown into opposition in Ukraine. “We support the Ukrainians and we strongly oppose the Russian aggression,” Polish Defense Minister Mariusz Blaszak said.

Also passing into Ukraine were small groups of men who said they were returning home to fight. “We’ll beat Russia,” shouted a middle-aged returner as he walked past Polish border guards toward Ukrainian territory carrying a black duffle bag.

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Just behind them was a German, Viktor Dick, who was on his way to Kiev to try to save his pregnant Ukrainian wife and their three children. He looked frightened, but said he had to risk the dangerous journey to the besieged capital to save his family.

If the war continues, five million Ukrainians could flee to neighboring countries, facing the European Union – which in 2015 was mired in a migration crisis involving about 1.5 million people – and possibly foreigners. With great influx.

But unlike earlier influxes and a crisis last year that would have involved refugees traveling from Belarus in Poland and Lithuania, Europe’s most migrant-hostile governments in Poland and Hungary have generally welcomed Ukrainians.

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

However, refugees arriving from Ukraine have been greeted with smiles, hot drinks and transportation to the nearest train station. Police officers handed out fruit, donuts and sandwiches to Ukrainians camping in the waiting room.

Unlike migrants who were beaten across the border by Polish guards last year, Ukrainians, who are mostly Christians and whites, have a legal right to enter Poland and other EU countries without visas. About one million Ukrainians already live in Poland.

And Ukrainian suffering at the hands of Russia has stirred sympathy in the former communist lands of East and Central Europe, where people have bitter memories of living under the yoke of Moscow.

Poland’s populist right-wing government, headed by the Law and Justice Party, led a campaign in 2015 to oppose the liberal migration policies of the European Union, as did Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, but now it is one of the reception centres. Organizing and temporary housing for Ukrainians.

“We will accept as many refugees as we need,” Defense Deputy Minister Marcin Osipa said on Monday.

Lyudmila Vietovich, who arrived with her two children from Lviv, a city near the Polish border on Friday, said she was pleasantly surprised to see Poles being so welcoming, even though her hometown has so far escaped the Kremlin’s wrath.

“It is mostly quiet now,” she said, “but no one knows what Russia’s next target will be.”

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

Yet, while Kiev residents are drifting west, youths in the west have flown in the opposite direction, their bravery and patriotic pride often mixed with deep concern about what will happen if they reach the front lines. So what awaits them?

Dressed in the Art Nouveau splendor of Lviv’s central railway station, terrified soldiers smoke and women say goodbye to their men on stage, as if playing scenes from the film until Monday, which seemed like a bygone era. .

Across the border from Lviv, at the railway station in the Polish city of Przemysl, the last train from Kiev arrived seven hours late, carrying about 500 people, mostly women and children, on a dimly lit platform. Despite its attractive and modern appearance, the train took about 24 hours to cover only 350 miles from the capital of Ukraine 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 also left European politicians and many ordinary people suddenly feeling awkward and out of time. left it.

Ms Zapotochna, the sick child’s mother, said she and her husband had decided to take their son to safety after Russian missiles struck a plane near their home in the city of Ivano-Frankovsk in south-west Ukraine on Monday morning. Airport destroyed. His car journey to the Polish border took 28 hours.

“I hope we can go back. I have to go back. This is not my country,” she said, as her crying mother-in-law, a Polish native who greeted her at the border, tried to comfort the sick child. Of.

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

Reporting contributed by Mark Santora in Lviv, Ukraine and Anatol Magdziarz in Warsaw.

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