U.N. seeks $1.7B for Ukrainian refugees, says 660,000 have fled

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March 1 (UPI) — The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees appealed for $1.7 billion in aid Tuesday as it announced that some 660,000 refugees have left Ukraine since the Russian invasion last week.

The Russian military invasion prompted Ukrainians to flee into neighboring countries over the past six days, according to the UNHCR.

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“We are looking at what could become Europe’s largest refugee crisis this century,” said U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi.

The majority of those refugees have fled to Poland, Hungary, Moldova, Romania and Slovakia, which have kept their borders open. There is also a contingent that has moved to Russia.

“We have seen tremendous solidarity and hospitality from the countries receiving refugees, including from the authorities and local communities,” UNHCR spokeswoman Shabia Mantoo said at a briefing in Geneva, Switzerland, on Tuesday.

“UNHCR urges governments to continue to maintain access to territory for all those fleeing: Ukrainians, and third country nationals living in Ukraine, who are now forced to escape the violence. We stress that there must be no discrimination against any person or group.”

This comes after the Nigerian government condemned reports Monday about its citizens being stopped from leaving Ukraine. The report says there has been similar treatment of African citizens from other countries.

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There are reports of Ukrainian security officials preventing Africans from boarding buses to get to the border.

The United Nations appealed Tuesday for a combined $1.7 billion for humanitarian support for people in Ukraine as well as refugees forced into the neighboring countries.

The U.N. agency’s field staff on the ground reported miles of queues on the Ukrainian side of the Polish border, with some reporting wait times of up to 60 hours. Most arrivals are women and children from all parts of Ukraine.

The United Nations estimates 12 million people inside Ukraine will need relief and protection, while more than 4 million Ukrainian refugees may need protection and other assistance.

“Families with small children are hunkered down in basements and subway stations or running for their lives to the terrifying sound of explosions and wailing sirens. Casualty numbers are rising fast. This is the darkest hour for the people of Ukraine. We need to ramp up our response now to protect the lives and dignity of ordinary Ukrainians. We must respond with compassion and solidarity,” said U.N. humanitarian chief Martin Griffiths.

Demonstrators hold signs and flags during a protest February 26 in Tel Aviv, Israel, in support of Ukraine after the Russian invasion and massive military operation. Photo by Debbie Hill/UPI | License Photo