Updated Mar 6, 2022 - World

UN: Ukraine exodus is fastest-growing refugee crisis in Europe since WWII

People with children wait to cross the Irpin river in Ukraine as shelling intensifies around Kyiv.
People with children wait to cross the Irpin river near Kyiv as Russian shelling intensifies in and around the capital. Photo: Diego Herrera/Europa Press via Getty Images

The number of refugees fleeing Ukraine has topped 1.5 million in 10 days, making the exodus the fastest-growing refugee crisis in Europe since World World II, the UN refugee agency said on Sunday.

What they're saying: "In the coming days millions more lives will be uprooted, unless there is an immediate end to this senseless conflict," UNHCR added.

  • “We need a ceasefire, we need a cessation of hostilities so that people can stop moving and even go back to their homes perhaps, but under the circumstances, they are all telling me they are afraid too much," UNHCR chief Filippo Grandi told Al Jazeera from the Ukrainian-Polish border.
  • “What we hear is that hundreds of thousands are on the move,” he said. “If bombs continue to rain on cities, people will leave."

Anna Klimova, who fled the Ukrainian capital, told The Guardian that she left Kyiv because "there are many bombs and you sit in the basement and still hear it."

  • "It’s a really hard situation," she added.

Pope Francis, meanwhile, said in a statement posted on Twitter Sunday, "Rivers of blood and tears are flowing in Ukraine."

  • "It is not merely a military operation, but a war, which is sowing death, destruction and misery. The number of victims is increasing as are the people fleeing, especially mothers and children. The need for humanitarian assistance in that troubled country is growing dramatically by the hour.
  • "War is madness! Stop, please! Look at this cruelty!"
People wait to cross the Irpin river on March 5, 2022, in Irpin, Ukraine.
People wait to cross the Irpin River near Kyiv on March 5. Photo: Diego Herrera/Europa Press via Getty Images

The big picture: Most refugees — over 885,000 — have fled to Poland since Russia began its unprovoked invasion of Ukraine. Others have gone to Hungary, Slovakia, Moldova, Romania, Belarus and other European countries, according to UN data. Tens of thousands have also arrived in Russia.

  • Efforts to evacuate civilians trapped in the coastal city of Mariupol were called off for a second straight day Sunday after Ukraine accused Russia of continuing its shelling in the area, despite Moscow's agreement to open "humanitarian corridors" to allow people to flee, per the New York Times.

Meanwhile, the European Union has granted immediate protections to Ukrainian refugees. Under the protections, Ukrainians can move, live and work in the EU, as well as obtain certain benefits without going through the sometimes long and complicated process to obtain asylum.

  • The Biden administration has offered Ukrainians already in the U.S. temporary protected status, which shields them from deportation for 18 months.

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Editor's note: This story has been updated with Pope Francis' comment.

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