Freezing weather and border bottlenecks as Ukrainians flee war

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TISZABEC, Hungary/WARSAW, Feb 28 (Reuters) – Poland on Monday sought to facilitate entry into the European Union for around 250,000 Ukrainians waiting at European borders in freezing conditions after fleeing the Russian invasion of their country.

With men of conscription age barred from leaving Ukraine, groups of mostly women and children arrived at the borders of eastern Poland, Slovakia and Hungary as well as north and north -eastern Romania.

Waiting times to cross borders ranged from a few hours at small crossings to several days at the busiest such as Medyka in Poland, where lines on the Ukrainian side stretched for tens of kilometers (miles).

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“The queues are huge,” said Polish PM Michal Dworczyk’s chief of staff, who added that border police were letting in undocumented people and the government was talking to its Ukrainian counterparts about simplifying the process. procedures.

“If we count the functional border points, there are certainly more than a quarter of a million people at the borders,” he said.

Another Polish official said Ukrainian border guards were slowing the flow of people as they sought to separate men of fighting age.

“The system often freezes,” Deputy Interior Minister Pawel Szefernaker told wp.pl.

The US Embassy in Kyiv tweeted that Ukrainian border guards were scrapping exit screening procedures for women and children to reduce wait times as snow began to fall.

Romanian Interior Minister Lucian Bode said that with people queuing for 20 to 30 hours on the Ukrainian side to enter Romania, it was crucial to agree on how to handle their documents in order to shorten waiting times on the EU side as well.

The head of a UN agency said on Monday that more than 500,000 people had fled Ukraine to neighboring countries since the Russian invasion began last week. EU officials said the war could displace 7 million people.

The European Union is also preparing to grant Ukrainians fleeing war the right to stay and work in the 27-nation bloc for up to three years. Read more

BORDER CITIES

Crowds of people and cars have begun to clog border towns such as Medyka as refugees wait to be picked up.

Przemysl Mayor Wojciech Bakun called on Polish volunteers to stop showing up with cars to provide transport for newly arrived groups, saying traffic was becoming unmanageable.

As authorities searched for ways to unblock bottlenecks, Ukrainians living in the European Union waited anxiously at border crossings to greet family members.

“We were waiting here for three days and they were on the road for more than four days,” said Veronika Sahlikova Kufelt, who traveled from Germany to meet her nieces and grandmother at the Ubla crossing point in Slovakia.

In Hungary, in the village of Tiszabecs nestled in a meander of the Tisza River, a Ukrainian refugee – Tanya – arrived at 4 a.m. with two children aged one and eight.

As she waited for a friend to drive them to her husband in Lublin, southeastern Poland, registered cars from Hungary, Italy and the Czech Republic drove back and forth, carrying refugees.

His town of Kalush in western Ukraine was relatively quiet before he left.

“Only the sirens were screaming,” Tanya said.

Poland, whose Ukrainian community of around 1 million is the largest in the region, has taken in many people fleeing Ukraine.

Polish border authorities said nearly 327,000 people have entered Poland since Feb. 24, including about 73,300 who arrived on Monday.

At Medyka, Poland’s busiest border crossing, authorities loaded the new arrivals onto tourist buses before transporting them to a reception center in the nearby town of Przemysl where friends, relatives and volunteers were waiting.

New arrivals huddled in blankets around the fires as they waited in cold, snowy weather to leave the reception center.

“I took a train from Kyiv to Lviv to a point where the taxi dropped us off,” said a Ukrainian woman. “I walked the last 50 kilometers.”

Across central Europe, authorities set up makeshift reception centers in tents where people could get medical help and process asylum papers, while thousands of volunteers went to borders with donations of food, blankets and clothing.

In the capital Warsaw, local authorities said local residents had listed some 2,500 apartments where refugees could stay.

In Romania, where volunteers were trying to provide raincoats in snowy conditions, more than 74,000 Ukrainians have arrived since Feb. 24, more than half of whom are leaving for destinations in other countries, officials said.

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Additional reporting by Anna Koper and Alan Charlish in Warsaw, Kuba Stezycki in Medyka, Jiri Skacel in Ubla and Luiza Ilie in Bucharest, writing by Michael Kahn and Justyna Pawlak, editing by Ed Osmond and Bernadette Baum

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