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More than 2 million people have fled Ukraine, 12 days after Russia invaded

People wait to board buses taking them further into Poland or abroad from a temporary refugee shelter in a former shopping center near the Polish city of Przemysl on Tuesday.
Louisa Gouliamaki
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AFP via Getty Images
People wait to board buses taking them further into Poland or abroad from a temporary refugee shelter in a former shopping center near the Polish city of Przemysl on Tuesday.

More than 2 million Ukrainians have fled their country in the 12 days since Russia began its invasion, according to a tracker from the U.N. refugee agency.

It took a single week for the number of refugees to reach 1 million, on Thursday. That number has increased exponentially, as Russian forces have amped up their shelling of critical and civilian infrastructure.

The 2 million refugees, who are mostly women and children, represent about 4% of Ukraine's population. At least half of them are children, according to UNICEF. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees estimates that some 4 million Ukrainians could flee their homeland as the crisis unfolds.

It says it's working with nonprofits and neighboring countries to "ensure safe access to territory for refugees and third-country nationals fleeing from Ukraine, in line with international standards."

The vast majority of refugees — more than 1 million — have been welcomed by Poland, which borders Ukraine to the west. NPR's Joanna Kakissis reports from Rzeszow that Poland is receiving 100,000 refugees every day, with dozens of reception centers offering hot meals and a place to rest.

Tens of thousands have made their way to Russia, as well as other Eastern European countries like Slovakia, Hungary, Moldova and Romania.

As NPR has reported, not all refugees are getting the same treatment, with students of color from Africa and South Asia saying they faced discrimination at the Polish border. And the warm welcome extended to most Ukrainians lies in stark contrast to the way many of these same countries have treated previous waves of refugees from places like Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan.

Plus, some parts of the world appear more hospitable to Ukrainian refugees than others.

The United States is granting temporary protection from deportation to tens of thousands of Ukrainians already within its borders, while the European Union just introduced similar protections for Ukrainian refugees.

The United Kingdom, however, is facing criticism for granting visas to only 300 Ukrainian refugees so far. That number is up from about 50 on Sunday, the BBC reports.

Refugees seeking a U.K. visa must either have family in the country or a British sponsor for their application. The U.K.'s Home Office says there are some 17,700 family applications in progress.

People arriving from Ukraine wait at the main railway station for a train to take them to Warsaw on Monday in Przemysl, Poland.
Sean Gallup / Getty Images
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Getty Images
People arriving from Ukraine wait at the main railway station for a train to take them to Warsaw on Monday in Przemysl, Poland.

Some 600 Ukrainians are stuck in the French port of Calais — across the English Channel from Dover — in their efforts to reach the U.K., with the BBC reporting that many say they were turned away for lack of paperwork. British officials said Tuesday that they are opening another French visa application center in Lille, in addition to its primary location in Paris.

Refugee organizations have urged the government to enact fast-track refugee arrangements for Ukrainians fleeing the war.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson rejected calls this week to relax visa requirements for Ukrainians, saying Britain's system is "generous" but requires oversight.

"We are a very, very generous country. What we want though is control and we want to be able to check," he said, according to Euronews. "I think it's sensible given what's going on in Ukraine to make sure that we have some basic ability to check who is coming in."

But Ben Wallace, the defense secretary, told the BBC on Tuesday that the U.K. needs to accelerate the process of verifying refugees' identities and arranging their visas, noting it was able to do so quickly in the past for Afghan refugees. He said his department would help the Home Office in that effort.

"Can I do more, can the government do more, to speed up the processing of visas? Yes they can. Will we be doing it? Absolutely," he said.


This story originally appeared in the Morning Edition live blog.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.