Russia’s War Forces Millions of People to Flee Their Homes: War in Ukraine Live

Credit…Tyler Hicks/The New York Times

About a third of Ukraine’s population has been forced to leave their homes since Russia’s invasion in February, including more than 7.1 million who have been internally displaced, according to the United Nations, indicating the magnitude of a humanitarian crisis that has largely gone unnoticed. . the war continues.

According to the UN refugee agency, the number of internally displaced persons dwarfs the 4.8 million Ukrainians who fled to Europe as refugees.

While large swaths of the country were subjected to brutal Russian invasion in its early weeks, most of the displaced people from Ukraine are now coming from the east as the region becomes the center of conflict.

Boarding trains and buses, civilians poured from cities and towns across eastern Ukraine, fleeing to relative safety in the west and in the northern capital, Kyiv. Some left in relief convoys, moving along treacherous roads amid the threat of skirmishes or shelling. Others left on foot, literally fleeing.

And as Russian troops are now training their artillery in the Donetsk region in the east, seeking to take over the entire industrial region of Donbass, more people are forced to leave their homes every day. As a result of artillery shelling by Russian troops in Donetsk over the past day, five civilians have died, the head of the regional military government, Pavel Kirilenko, said on Wednesday in the messaging app on the Telegram social network.

Within days, Mr. Kirilenko advised residents to leave the province, a sign that the Ukrainian authorities believe the fighting will escalate. Officials hope to avoid large-scale evacuations, as in the neighboring Luhansk region, which has fallen to the Russians in recent days.

Only three million people are officially registered as internally displaced, although the real number is believed to be more than double that. The lack of international humanitarian assistance has further drained local resources.

“The state was not ready for such a scale of migrants in many areas,” Vitaliy Muzychenko, Deputy Minister of Social Policy of Ukraine, said this week at a press conference, where he announced new plans to process migrants for state benefits.

This massive displacement has changed communities across the country, even those not affected by the physical devastation of the war. Shelters have appeared in public buildings, university dormitories have been refurbished, and several modular homes have been built to house the displaced.

The majority of internally displaced persons, like refugees, are women and children, and many of them face shortages of food, water and basic necessities. according to UN experts.

Oksana Zelinskaya, 40, who was the director of a kindergarten in the southern city of Kherson, now occupied by Russian troops, fled in April with her two children, a colleague, and the woman’s children to the western city of Uzhgorod near the Slovak border. Her husband stayed in Kherson and she would like to return, but said she was staying in the west for the sake of her children.

“When we got here, I needed to do something, it was difficult, and I didn’t want to sit and get depressed,” she said. “I wanted to be helpful.”

She began volunteering in the community kitchen she used when she first arrived, peeling potatoes and preparing meals for the dozens of people who come for a hot meal every day.

Helping displaced people return to their homes or find new ones is becoming one of Ukraine’s biggest challenges, regardless of the outcome of the war. Some of their hometowns may not return to Ukrainian control. Others that are repulsed could be almost completely destroyed, with houses, plumbing and other vital infrastructure destroyed by the Russian army’s scorched earth tactics.