By STEPHEN McGRATH, Associated Press
SUCEAVA, Romania (AP) — Elena Yurchuk watched families with children explode and the hospital she worked in reduced to rubble during Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
“I don’t know if I have a house or not,” said the 44-year-old nurse from the town of Chernihiv in northern Ukraine. “Our city is under siege and we barely escaped.”
Yurchuk arrived safely in the Romanian border town of Suceava, which has hosted thousands of refugees fleeing the Russian invasion of Ukraine in recent days. Chernihiv, she says, now looks like a “ghost town”.
“People in cars are blown up by mines, a car with children and a young family blew up…literally behind us,” Yarchuk said.
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While the number of people arriving in neighboring countries from Ukraine appears to have dwindled over the past week, the harrowing accounts of refugees of destruction and death testify to the continued suffering of civilians in Ukrainian cities besieged by Russian forces.
At Przemysl station in Poland, refugees described traveling on crowded trains and “people sleeping on top of each other” on their journey to safety. Some heard explosions as they drove through an area of western Ukraine near Lviv in the area where Russian missiles pounded a military training base, killing at least 35 people.
“When I passed through Lviv, there was an explosion. They bombed two military bases,” said Elizaveta Zmievskaya, 25, from Dnipro. “The sky has turned red.”
More than 1.5 million refugees have arrived in Poland since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine began on February 24 – out of a total of around 2.7 million people who the United Nations says have fled so far. ‘now.
But Polish border guard spokeswoman Anna Michalska said the number of refugees arriving had fallen in the past week, with around 79,800 arriving on Saturday, down from 142,000 a week earlier. In Romania, 29,636 refugees arrived on March 7, the number falling to 16,676 on Saturday.
Still, the refugees said their flight to safety was more difficult than ever.
Roman Titov Chuguyev, 16, traveled with his brother for more than 10 hours on a crowded train before meeting their mother who was already in Poland.
“We had to travel alone,” he said. “There were a lot of people, a lot of people sleeping on top of each other. In the cabin for six people, there were eight to ten people inside. It was just very hard.
His mother, Svetlana Titova, said she was relieved that her two sons had finally arrived.
“I had no connection with them,” she said. “I was worried, but I was here with others waiting.”
For Natalia, a 55-year-old Ukrainian refugee from Zaporizhija, this was her second flight, having left the Crimean peninsula in 2014 when Russia annexed it.
“It was scary,” she said. “We didn’t expect them (the Russians) and it’s not our first experience. But it was scary.”
Most of the refugees fleeing Ukraine are women and children, as men between the ages of 18 and 60 have stayed to fight and are not allowed to leave the country. Many have already moved to other countries in Europe, mainly to stay with friends and family.
At dawn on Sunday, a bus carrying around 50 Ukrainian refugees overturned on a major highway in northern Italy, killing one person, Italian firefighters said.
In Britain, the government has announced that it will pay a monetary reward to people who offer their homes as refuge to Ukrainians fleeing the Russian invasion. Officials said on Sunday that the “Homes for Ukraine” scheme, which will be introduced this week, will see sponsors receive a government payment of 350 pounds ($456) per month.
But refugees like Svitlana Prihodnia, a 55-year-old from Dnipro, just wish they never had to leave at all.
“Everyone dreams of going home soon,” she said.
Follow AP coverage of the Ukraine crisis at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine
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