PRZEMYSL, Poland (AP) — As Russia’s war in Ukraine becomes a grim new reality for millions of Ukrainians, the tens of thousands who make the increasingly perilous journey to safety in the Union have no idea when, or if, they will ever come home.
More than 2.8 million people have fled Ukraine following the Russian invasion, according to the UN refugee agency, with the vast majority seeking refuge in Poland which has taken in more than 1.7 million. refugees over the past 19 days.
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In the Polish border town of Przemysl, some of those fleeing, mostly women and children, are exhausted and express a simple wish for the war and violence to end.
“All day crying from the pain of having to part with loved ones, my husband, my parents,” said Alexandra Beluygova, 33, who fled Dnipro, a city between the besieged metropolises of Kyiv and Mariupol .
“I understand that we may not see them. I want this war to end,” she said.
At a refugee center in Suceava, northern Romania, Lesia Ostrovska, 28, watched over her one-year-old son while her 8-year-old daughter played nearby with other children displaced by the war.
“I left my husband, my father, my mother, my grandparents,” said Ostrovska, from Chernivtsi in western Ukraine. “It’s hard with the kids, on the bus, here in this situation… We hope the war will be over soon and we can go home.”
As the fighting, now in its third week, continues to take a heavy toll on Ukraine, with Russian troops shelling many of the country’s most populated cities, the number of those crossing countries to the east of the EU began to decline slowly. in the last days.
In Hungary, where around 255,000 refugees have entered so far, only 9,000 people crossed the border with Ukraine on Sunday, compared to more than double that of March 1, according to police.
In Slovakia, where more than 200,000 people have fled, less than 9,000 crossed the border on Sunday, compared to more than 12,000 four days earlier. And in Poland on Sunday, around 82,000 refugees were admitted, down from a previous daily peak of around 129,000.
Yet those who managed to flee the violence continued to arrive in countries on Ukraine’s western border.
In Przemysl, some said they witnessed military attacks on civilians, which Russia continues to deny.
“I saw destroyed houses and fighting. I saw a lot of tanks when I drove from Kyiv. I know that a house near our house was completely destroyed this morning,” said Inessa Armashova, 40, a resident of the Ukrainian capital. “Many people have fled. But many cannot leave, sick children or sick elderly people.
The continued push by Russian forces towards Kiev comes a day after Russia stepped up its offensive by launching airstrikes near the Polish border, raising fears in the West that the fight could draw closer to the EU and members of the the NATO military alliance.
The strikes, which involved waves of deadly Russian missiles hitting a military training base less than 25 kilometers (15 miles) from Ukraine’s border with NATO member Poland on Sunday, killed at least 35 people and appeared being the westernmost target hit during the 19-day invasion of Ukraine.
Residents of the Polish village of Wielkie Oczy, just two kilometers (over a mile) from the border, were jolted awake in the middle of the night by the sound of explosions.
“My son came out onto the balcony and the neighbors were already awake and the dogs all over the village started barking,” said Franciek Sawicki, 77, who heard the missile attack. “We could see the glow above the forest. It was very loud and I heard a loud explosion. And at that moment I knew it was an attack near the border.
The attack’s proximity to Poland shattered the sense of security in western Ukraine, which until now had remained mostly safe from Russian attacks, and raised the possibility that the NATO alliance can be drawn into combat.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy called it a ‘black day’ and again urged NATO leaders to establish a no-fly zone over the country, a plea the West says could escalate into a nuclear confrontation.
But Anjela, 55, a Ukrainian refugee from Poltava who did not want to give her surname, said after arriving in Poland that only NATO intervention could end the violence in Ukraine.
“I don’t know when I will see my husband. I don’t know when my children will come home,” she said. “Please, it’s all up to you, close the sky, everything else we’ll do ourselves.”
Justin Spike reported from Budapest, Hungary. Stephen McGrath in Suceava, Romania, Monika Scislowska in Warsaw, Poland, and Karel Janicek in Prague contributed to this report.