Refugees flee across EU borders as Ukrainian fighting flares

Refugees fleeing Russia’s invasion of Ukraine continued to pour across its western borders on Saturday, with around 100,000 reaching Poland in two days and some finding temporary sanctuary in sports halls and others in churches.

As Russian forces pounded Ukrainian cities including the capital Kyiv with artillery and cruise missiles, fearful families thronged European Union borders hoping to enter Poland, Slovakia, Romania and Hungary.

Ukrainians already safely in the European Union waited anxiously at the borders for relatives to join them; many had walked for miles to try to reach safety.

“The most important thing is that people survive,” said Katharina Asselborn, wiping away tears as she waited at the Polish border for her sister, aunt and her three children from their home in Odessa.

“I don’t know what will happen next. They lost their own house. It’s so terrible. The last 30 kilometres to the border they went on foot.”

At the Hungarian border town of Beregsurany, 69-year-old Ilona Varga crossed into the European Union on foot, leaving behind her home, shop and hopes she might soon return.

“My kids are telling me to move over to Hungary for good, and they are right,” Varga said. “But it is so hard to leave everything behind, I was born here, I grew up here, I have my work here, everything ties me here.”

At the same border post, 58-year-old Nataliya Ableyeva brought a stranger’s two children to safety after border guards prevented their fighting-age Ukrainian father from crossing.

“Their father simply handed over the two kids to me, and trusted me, giving me their passports to bring them over,” she said. On the Hungarian side, the two children were reunited with their mother.

In Poland, which has the region’s largest Ukrainian community of about 1 million people, a further 9,000 people had crossed the border since 7 a.m. on Saturday, Deputy Interior Minister Pawel Szefernaker told a news conference.

At Medyka in the south, some 85 km (50 miles) from Lviv in western Ukraine, thousands of Ukrainians waited for officials to process them as refugees. A group of women dragging suitcases with small children sitting on them shouted “Glory to Ukraine” as they passed.