An estimated 100,000 Ukrainians have been forced to flee their homes following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and several thousand have crossed into neighboring countries.
Footage online and on social media shows lines of cars moving out of cities and headed west. There is also an increase of people leaving by foot near the western and southern borders.
The UN refugee agency said that the situation is deteriorating quickly, and that more are expected to flee. It has pleaded with neighboring countries to keep borders open in order to allow people to seek a safe haven.
At the border crossing between Ukraine and Hungary, hundreds of cars are waiting in huge line stretching back more than 2 kilometers. People there said they had already been waiting for hours.
A customs official said that those who have money are planning to leave and drive further into Western Europe. Normally a few hundred people come through the crossing in which he works, but on Thursday, 1,500 had crossed by 4 pm.
Central European countries, especially the ones on Ukraine’s border, have been making preparations for a potential influx of refugees for weeks.
Poland is already home to an estimated 2 million Ukrainians, many who moved there after the conflict in 2014. There is a relatively easy scheme there to obtain work permits. The government said it plans to home Ukrainian refugees in hostels, sport facilities, and dormitories.
Germany said it too will offer support to countries in eastern and central Europe, especially its neighbor Poland, who is facing a surge of refugees. News outlets in Germany have estimated that between 200,000 and a million people will flee into the European Union.
Other countries have also offered support across Europe. Portugal said that potential refugees were welcome in the country, and that it was already home to a large Ukrainian community.