UN says Ukraine has fastest growing refugee crisis since second World War

Over 1.5m reported to have fled as three civilians are killed trying to escape fighting in Irpin

A Ukrainian soldier runs to check on a family after a mortar round lands near civilians fleeing Irpin, near Kyiv, Ukraine. Photograph: Lynsey Addario/The New York Times

The Russian invasion of Ukraine has triggered the fasting growing refugee crisis in Europe since the second world war, according to the head of the UN's refugee agency.

The warning came as eyewitnesses described an incident in which three people trying to escape fighting in Irpin, just outside Kyiv, were killed when they were shelled by Russian forces during an organised evacuation on Sunday.

Vast numbers of Ukrainian civilians continued to flee cities under bombardment, including the besieged coastal city of Mariupol where Russian forces agreed again to allow an urgent evacuation.

With more than 1.5 million refugees from Ukraine reported to have crossed into neighbouring countries in the space of 10 days, the UN high commissioner for refugees, Filippo Grandi, warned after visiting the Moldovan border that the situation would only get worse.


“This will be a more complex situation,” he said, after having tweeted on Sunday: “More than 1.5 million refugees from Ukraine have crossed into neighbouring countries in 10 days.”

Officials said many of the refugees who had arrived in other countries had friends and places to go to, but Mr Grandi said the growing tide of refugees would put pressure on governments to absorb them.

“These governments have done very well in their initial response. They were well prepared. But if the numbers continue to grow it will be a problem.”

Mr Grandi’s warning came as shocking images were posted on social media that appeared to show civilians trying to flee Irpin coming under Russian shell fire.

In the video a Ukrainian home guard volunteer can be seen being asked about evacuations from Irpin as civilians with suitcases hurry along the far side of the street.

He is asked what happened the day before and begins describing efforts to evacuate “casualties . . . children and women”. As the man speaks a shell lands near him, knocking him off his feet.

Huge queues

With huge queues of cars belonging to those fleeing the fighting jamming roads, and evacuation trains overcrowded with standing room only and not enough space for all those who want to flee, more than 3 per cent of Ukraine’s population have become refugees.

In the besieged southern port of Mariupol on the Sea of Azov, where residents have described desperate conditions under Russian shellfire – including no electricity, food shortages and hospitals operating in basements – a second attempt to organise an evacuation of up to 200,000 people failed on Sunday amid renewed shelling.

“It is extremely dangerous to take people out under such conditions,” the city council said in an online statement.

Images posted on social media showed a convoy of evacuation buses leaving the city of Zaporizhzhia on Sunday bound for Mariupol.

The evacuation attempt on Saturday was halted after Russia shelled the bus depot, with the city's mayor accusing Russian forces of a deliberate attack. "I'm absolutely sure," said Vadym Boichenko.

“They got information where the [evacuation] buses are and started hitting the bus depot. Yesterday I said we have a humanitarian crisis. Today it’s genocide.”

Record numbers of refugees have crossed into Poland from Ukraine, with the total number expected to surpass 1 million later on Sunday as Russian forces escalate their invasion.

The huge flows of refugees towards the border have been driven by what appears to be the deliberate targeting of civilians by Russian forces across the country.

At least 364 civilians are confirmed to have been killed in Ukraine since Russian troops invaded on February 24th, with another 759 wounded, though the true numbers were probably “considerably higher”, a UN monitoring mission said on Sunday.

Biggest port

With no signs of the fighting abating, Ukraine's military said it was fighting "fierce battles" with Russian forces on the edge of the southern city of Mykolaiv, which controls the road to the country's biggest port Odesa.

The conflict appeared to be spreading geographically into areas that had remained relatively unaffected until now, with the civilian airport at Vinnytsia, in central Ukraine, destroyed on Sunday by a volley of missiles.

Fresh data shows that Polish border guards had cleared as many as 129,000 people at border crossings on Saturday, the most in a single day since the war started, bringing the total to 922,400. – Guardian