Ukrainians face long wait at borders as officials seek to ease bottlenecks
MEDYKA, Poland/UBLA, Slovakia (Reuters) – Poland sought to ease passage into the European Union on Monday for around quarter of a million Ukrainians waiting at European border crossings in freezing conditions after fleeing the Russian invasion of their country.
With men of conscription age prevented from leaving Ukraine, groups of mainly women and children arrived at borders in eastern Poland, Slovakia and Hungary and in northern and northeastern Romania.
Wait times to cross borders ranged from a few hours at small crossings to more than a day at busier ones such as Medyka in Poland where lines on the Ukraine side stretched back dozens of kilometres.
“The queues are huge,” said Polish prime minister’s chief of staff Michal Dworczyk, who added border police were allowing in people without documents and that the government was talking with Ukrainian counterparts about simplifying procedures.
“If we count the functioning border points there are certainly over a quarter of a million people at the borders,” he said.
The U.S. Embassy in Kyiv tweeted that Ukrainian border guards were waiving exit screening procedures for women and children to reduce wait times as snow began falling.
More than 300,000 people have entered the European Union since fighting started last week and officials are preparing to deal with increasing numbers.
The invasion has sparked an exodus which EU officials have said could displace 7 million people. The European Union is also preparing to grant Ukrainians who flee the war the right to stay and work in the 27-nation bloc for up to three years.
As officials searched for ways to unclog bottlenecks, Ukrainians living in the European Union anxiously waited at borders to greet escaping family members.
“We were waiting here three days and they were on the road for over four days,” said Veronika Sahlikova Kufelt, who travelled from Germany to meet her nieces and grandmother at the Ubla crossing in Slovakia.
Poland, whose Ukrainian community of around 1 million is the region’s largest, has welcomed many people escaping Ukraine.
Polish border authorities said more than 281,000 have entered Poland since Feb. 24, with nearly 100,000 crossing on Sunday and at least another 28,000 arriving on Monday.
At Medyka, Poland’s busiest border crossing, officials loaded new arrivals into tour buses before ferrying them to a reception centre in the nearby town of Przemysl where friends, relatives and volunteers waited.
New arrivals huddled in blankets around fires as they waited in the snowy, cold weather to leave the reception centre.
“I took a train from Kyiv to Lviv to a oint where the taxi put us,” one Ukrainian woman said. “I walked the last 50 kilometres.”
The mayor of Przemysl, Wojciech Bakun, has called for people to stop bringing donations because the city’s warehouses are full and not to arrive in cars to pick people up as there are no parking places.
Across central Europe, authorities set up makeshift reception centres in tents where people could get medical aid and process asylum papers, while thousands of volunteers have driven to the borders with donations of food, blankets and clothes, offering transport services and shelter.
In Romania where volunteers were trying to provide raincoats in snowy conditions, 70,803 Ukrainians have arrived since Feb. 24, with more than half departing for destinations in other countries, officials said.
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