Washington — Filippo Grandi, the United Nations high commissioner for refugees, estimated Sunday that 1.5 million Ukrainians have left the country in the wake of Russia’s invasion, which he said is the fastest exodus of people since World War II.
“As of today we’ve passed the terrible mark of 1.5 million refugees and this in 10 days, essentially from Ukraine into five neighboring countries,” he said. “If I think of past decades, I cannot think in Europe of a faster exodus of people, not since the end of the Second World War.”
Grandi said there are mostly women and children arriving from Ukraine, since men between the ages of 18 and 60 must remain to defend the country against Russia, as well as the elderly and disabled.
“They are above all frightened, traumatized. These are people that until just a few days ago had a perfectly normal life and in a matter of hours, everything is thrown apart,” he said, adding “that trauma and anguish is the most defining feature at the moment.”
“We need this to stop because without the war stopping, people will just continue to pour out of the country,” Grandi said. “One-and-a-half million is difficult enough to manage even for relatively stable and prosperous countries in Europe. Imagine, however, if we go further up and we will, we will no doubt, if it doesn’t stop.”
The U.S.and European allies have provided humanitarian assistance to Ukraine, but Grandi said more supplies are needed in the country, while relief supplies and money are necessary for those who have already fled.
“European countries have means and organization, but if this number of people grows, we will need more international support and at some point, if people stay here for a long period of time, there will have to be other countries offering places to host refugees even outside Europe,” he said.
Russian and Ukrainian officials agreed to temporary cease-fires in the Ukrainian port city of Mariupol and nearby Volnovakha to allow civilians to evacuate over the weekend. But the efforttwice after Russian forces intensified their attack, Ukrainian officials said, complicating the ability of more to escape the fighting, which is in its 11th day.
Grandi said the U.N. and Red Cross, while inside Ukraine, are working to negotiate safe passage to the most affected places, such as Mariupol, but have not yet succeeded in getting the necessary guarantees and respect for the cease-fire.
“This is an extremely messy situation, all over Ukraine,” he said, adding Russian forces are firing on civilians trying to flee. “People are so afraid they just leave their homes.”