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How Europe Is Responding to Ukrainian Refugees

Ukrainian refugees and their children at the Medyka border crossing in Medyka, Poland, on March 18.

Ukrainian refugees and their children at the Medyka border crossing in Medyka, Poland, on March 18.

Photographer: Angel Garcia/Bloomberg
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Russia’s February invasion of Ukraine has driven about a third of the nation’s 41 million people from their homes. More than 5 million of the displaced have left Ukraine for other European countries, producing the fastest moving refugee crisis since World War II, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. They’ve been well-received so far in Europe, where the war in Ukraine triggers a specter of Russian expansion that is part of the collective memory. The European Union granted them the right to live, work and receive social services in any of its 27 member states for as long as three years. There’s no guarantee the welcome won’t fade, however, as it did for asylum-seekers from the Middle East, Asia and Africa during a crisis in 2015. 

Poland is the No. 1 destination. The Polish government set up reception points along the 500-kilometer (311-mile) shared border, with citizens mobilizing to help. Poles and Ukrainians have similar cultures and languages. Despite being the aggressor, Russia was the second-largest destination. Other border states Romania, Hungary, Moldova and Slovakia also served as major landing zones. But as the war ground on, refugees increasingly relocated beyond the frontier areas, fanning out across Europe, with Germany the most popular haven. The UN has registered more than 2 million border crossings into Ukraine since the war’s start but noted that people may have been moving back and forth amid a volatile situation.