Refugees Fleeing Ukraine Now Represent Biggest Movement of People in Europe Since World War II

RZESZOW, Poland—More than 1.45 million people have left Ukraine since Russia invaded the country 10 days ago, the International Organization for Migration said on Saturday, sparking what the United Nations agency described as the fastest and largest displacement of people in Europe since World War II.

Since Russia invaded Ukraine last week, large numbers of Ukrainians have fledmost heading west and toward eastern members of the European Union—Poland, Romania, Hungary and Slovakia—that have pledged assistance.

Around half of the refugees have crossed into Polandwhose border-control agency said on Saturday that 827,600 people had entered from Ukraine since Feb. 24, when the Russian invasion began. The first seven hours of Saturday saw 33,700 arrivals, more than the previous day, according to the border-control agency.

Poland has been a staunch supporter of Ukrainian independence since before the invasion, with Prime Minister

Mateusz Morawiecki

pledging weapons and humanitarian supplies on visits to Kyiv as Russia built up troops on Ukraine’s borders.

“When Russia opens fire on Ukraine, Poles open up their border and their hearts for them,” Mr. Morawiecki wrote on Twitter on Friday.

The upbeat statements belie the size of the challenge facing Poland, which may have to resettle much larger numbers of refugees in the coming years.

Hundreds of volunteers are working at the border with Ukraine to find shelter and warm clothing for refugees and arrange free onward travel for the many foreign citizens also making their way out of Ukraine.

At the train station in Przemysl, a town near the border, Ukrainians can get free meals, cellphone sim cards and help arranging free travel to other Polish cities.

Many of the volunteers working in Przemysl are hosting refugees at their homes while they arrange accommodation for them in larger cities such as Krakow and Warsaw.

“This situation poses a very big challenge, a kind of an exam I hope that we will all pass somehow,” said

Anna Leskiw,

a Polish language teacher at the Ukrainian School in Przemysl. Ms. Leskiw has been coming to the train station daily as a volunteer, often joined by students.

On one day, “3,000 people left one train, mainly women with children,” Ms. Leskiw said. “A horrible view—they were exhausted, were crying. My heart didn’t handle that.”

Poland is already home to between one and two million Ukrainians, many of whom have settled in the country since conflict erupted in eastern Ukraine between Russian-backed separatists and Kyiv in 2014. Many of the new arrivals are connecting with family or friends already in Poland.

The European Union agreed on Thursday to grant Ukrainian refugees a temporary residence permit, removing the need for them to request asylum.

European rail operations, including in Poland, Germany and France, are now allowing free travel to anyone carrying Ukrainian personal identification papers.

Around 20,000 Ukrainian refugees have been registered in Germany since the start of the war last week, according to the government. The number is constantly increasing as thousands arrive at the Berlin central station alone.

“We will of course take in those who come to Germany,” interior minister

Nancy Faeser

said last week.

More than 13,000 people fleeing the war arrived by train to Berlin on Friday evening, Germany’s rail operator Deutsche Bahn said.

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Evacuees at the Lviv station in Ukraine rushed to board a train to Poland Saturday.


daniel leal/Agence France-Presse/Getty Images

Germans have flocked to Berlin Central Station to offer food and accommodation to refugees pouring in from Poland. Authorities reopened refugee shelters that had been used during the refugee crisis of 2015-16 at the height of the Syrian war.

“My dad and my brother stayed behind to help defend our home,” said a woman who arrived Tuesday with three children and her elderly mother. “We cry for them, not for us,” she said while waiting for a train to Italy, hoping to join relatives who live there.

People from across Europe have come to the border to help the refugees. Near the Polish-Ukrainian border crossing at Medyka, Dutch, German and Austrian citizens have arrived to help transport Ukrainians or offer them a temporary roof over their heads.

Danny Rijnenberg,

a 29-year-old Dutchman who works for an insulation company, traveled this week from his home in the Netherlands to offer transportation and accommodations to any Ukrainians who want to temporarily stay at his home.

“This is my human obligation,” said Mr. Rijnenberg, as he stood in the arrivals hall of Przemysl train station holding a placard reading “Holland.”

Write to Matthew Luxmoore at and Bojan Pancevski at

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