UN Refugee Chief: 1 Million Have Fled Ukraine in Russian Invasion’s First Week

The United Nations’ high commissioner for refugees said Thursday that one million people have fled Ukraine in the past week alone, one of the fastest and largest mass exoduses of people in conflict situations in decades.  

“Hour by hour, minute by minute, more people are fleeing the terrifying reality of violence. Countless have been displaced inside the country,” Filippo Grandi said in a statement. “And unless there is an immediate end to the conflict, millions more are likely to be forced to flee Ukraine.”

Intensification of the Russian offensive has seen multiple cities across the country come under air and ground attack in the past week. Russian tanks and armored vehicles are continuing to roll through the country threatening several large cities.

Grandi told the U.N. Security Council on Monday that he had not seen “such an incredibly fast-rising exodus of people – the largest, surely, within Europe, since the Balkan wars.”

He said unless there is an immediate halt to the conflict, people will continue to flee.

“We are currently planning – repeat: planning – for up to four million refugees in the coming days and weeks,” Grandi said Monday.

When he briefed the council on Monday, he said more than 280,000 people had fled to Poland alone. As of Wednesday, UNHCR said the number had nearly doubled to 547,982 people.

Numbers of refugees are also rising quickly in Hungary, Moldova, Slovakia, Romania and other European countries. Nearly 50,000 people, primarily from eastern Ukraine, have also sought refuge in Russia.

The U.N. Children’s agency, UNICEF, says half of those fleeing the country are children.

The U.N. appealed Tuesday for $1.7 billion to meet emergency needs inside and in neighboring countries for the next three months. Nations stepped up immediately with $1.5 billion in pledges. UNHCR hopes to assist 2.4 million refugees and asylum-seekers with money from the appeal.

The United States announced $54 million in new humanitarian funding last week for Ukrainians.  

“They are fleeing increasingly violent and widespread strikes by Russian forces against residential areas and infrastructure – from the shelling of hospitals and kindergartens to rockets targeting central city squares,” U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield said in a statement. “The human toll of Russia’s unprovoked and unjustifiable attack against its sovereign neighbor is growing exponentially each day.”

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