Europe Readies Itself for a Ukrainian Refugee Crisis

European nations are stepping up to help Ukrainians flee Russian aggression.


Countries across Europe are bracing for a historic flood of refugees following Russia's invasion of Ukraine, which began last Thursday, February 24. On Saturday, the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs released a report that estimated that upward of 160,000 Ukrainians had been "internally displaced" within the country and that more than 116,000 people had fled Ukraine. 

Europe has been preparing for this. In December, Ukraine Minister of Defense Oleksii Reznikov warned that a Russian invasion of Ukraine could lead to as many as 5 million Ukrainians seeking refugee status. 

Poland's Deputy Interior Minister Maciej Wasik said in a January 28 radio interview that his country was preparing for "a wave of up to a million people." Polish troops recently set up processing centers along the border and have repurposed an arena to be used as a shelter for 500 people, The New York Times reports. The country borders Ukraine, and roughly 2 million Ukrainians already live and work in Poland.

Over the weekend, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, a longtime ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin, criticized Russia's invasion and announced his country would be open to Ukrainian refugees, a major reversal after years of restricting immigration to Hungary. The Hungarian Defence Forces "expect up to 600,000 refugees from Ukraine, and are ready to accept tens of thousands," according to Hungary Today. A human rights activist in Budapest told The New York Times that charities and nongovernmental organizations are currently providing most of Hungary's assistance to refugees. 

Moldova, a small country to the south of Ukraine, had allowed in almost 16,000 refugees as of Friday, Interior Minister Ana Revenco said during a press conference on February 25. Only 386 Ukrainian refugees have sought asylum in the country. 

Romanian Defense Minister Vasile Dincu told Reuters on February 22, before the invasion began, "There are several estimates, but we could receive over 500,000 refugees, that is…the number for which we have prepared alongside the interior ministry and other institutions."

On February 22, with Russia's invasion imminent, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson affirmed his commitment to helping place Ukrainian refugees. "This country will continue to do what it has always done and receive those who are fleeing in fear of persecution," Johnson said before Parliament. "That is what we will do."

United States Press Secretary Jen Psaki told reporters on Thursday that the Biden administration predicts most Ukrainian refugees will settle in neighboring European countries. The administration also says it is considering protecting Ukrainians currently in the U.S. from deportation through granting Temporary Protected Status or Deferred Enforced Departure, according to CBS News.