Poland Becomes Safe Haven For Ukrainians

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Ukrainians fleeing violence have started trickling into Poland after Russian forces invaded their country by land, air and sea on Thursday

Central European nations that share a border with Ukraine have for weeks braced for an expected flood of refugees searching for sanctuary within the European Union.

Even though officials in European Union countries bordering Ukraine, including Romania and Slovakia, said there was no big influx of refugees, for now, local media and witnesses said foot traffic was increasing.

Refugees fleeing on foot

Dozens of people arrived at the normally quiet Medyka crossing on Thursday, some carrying luggage and accompanied by children.

Alexander Bazhanov fled his home in eastern Ukraine with his wife and young child, taking only what they could carry and walking the final part of their journey into Poland.

The 34-year-old technical manager from Mariupol, 113 km from Donetsk, decided to cross into Poland when he learned the war had started from a colleague.

"I don't have any feelings other than that I am very scared," Bazhanov told Reuters at the pedestrian border crossing, about 400 km from Warsaw. "I will visit my father in Spain but I don't have any money and I don't know how I will do that."

The Medyka crossing is largely used by people going shopping across the border or travelling for work.

Lines to enter the Polish border town grew during the morning. Some people said they feared Russia could push far into Ukraine.

"Everybody thought western Ukraine was safe because it was close to EU and NATO nations," said Maria Palys, 44, who was travelling with her family and that of her brother. "It seems like it is not the right protection."

News of the invasion spurred Olga Pavlusik and her boyfriend Bohdan Begey to rush to the border, leaving their dog at home in their town in western Ukraine. They have no destination in mind. "Anywhere safe will be fine," she told Reuters.

Poland Becomes Safe Haven For Ukrainians

Poland preps medical train

Meanwhile, Poland is preparing a medical train to transport Ukrainians wounded in Russia's assault on its neighbour, the country's health ministry said, adding that Polish hospitals were ready to receive thousands of patients.

"Poland is preparing to accept migrants from Ukraine, including Ukrainian citizens affected by the armed conflict," the health ministry said in an email sent to Reuters.

In Ukraine, explosions were heard before dawn and throughout the morning in the capital Kyiv, a city of 3 million people. Gunfire rattled, sirens blared, and the highway out of the city choked with traffic as residents fled.

"We will do everything to ensure that every person who enters the territory of Poland has access to healthcare, including hospitalisation. Beds are being prepared in hospitals for the admission of the wounded," the Polish ministry added.

Poland's Health Minister Adam Niedzielski said Poland has prepared a list of 120 hospitals where people affected by the conflict in Ukraine could be treated.

"In total, we estimate at the moment that it would be possible to admit several thousand patients injured as a result of hostilities, including those seriously injured," Niedzielski said in an interview with website wp.pl.

He also said Poland was preparing a special train to transport the wounded, set up with medical equipment and personnel, a solution never before used in Poland.

"Exercises in using it are planned in the coming days. It will pick up the wounded from the border with Ukraine."

Niedzielski also said Poland was considering the possibility of using temporary Covid hospitals set up on fairs and stadiums.

"Temporary hospitals and their future role are now being considered. At the moment, there are fewer and fewer Covid-19 patients, so they could also be used in the case the darkest scenarios come true."

Putin said he had authorised military action after Russia had been left with no choice but to defend itself against what he said were threats from modern Ukraine, a democratic state of 44 million people.

(With inputs from Reuters)

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