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Thousands of Ukrainian refugees start arriving in neighbouring central European countries

Thousands of Ukrainians fleeing war with Russia started arriving in neighbouring central European countries on Thursday, and the region braced for many more — setting up reception points and sending troops toward the borders to provide assistance.

Refugees arrive in Moldova, Romania, Poland, Hungary, Slovakia as they flee Russian invasion

Thousands of Ukrainians fleeing war with Russia started arriving in neighbouring central European countries on Thursday, and the region braced for many more — setting up reception points and sending troops toward the borders to provide assistance.

An estimated 100,000 people have fled their homes and are uprooted after Russia's invasion, the United Nations refugee agency said on Thursday.

Shabia Mantoo, a spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, said the figures were compiled from reports from national authorities and its staff and partner agencies.

The countries on the European Union's eastern flank were all once part of the Moscow-led Warsaw Pact and are now members of NATO. Among them, Poland, Hungary, Slovakia and Romania all share land borders with Ukraine.

Earlier on Thursday, Russia launched an all-out invasion of Ukraine by land, air and sea, the biggest attack by one state against another in Europe since the Second World War. It confirmed the West's worst fears and prompted concern of a massive flood of refugees fleeing Ukraine, a nation of 44 million people.

Ukrainians trickling into Poland, Hungary, Slovakia

At the usually quiet border crossing at Medyka in southern Poland, dozens of people arrived from Ukraine on foot on Thursday morning carrying luggage. A line of cars waiting for passage grew longer during the course of the day.

A Polish woman, Olena Bogucka, 39, said she had been waiting for four hours while her Ukrainian husband and child were stuck on the other side.

"You can't get through," she said. "I can't reach them on the phone.... I don't how to get my child out.... I don't know what to do."

WATCH | CBC's Margaret Evans reports from the streets of Kyiv, while Briar Stewart details the situation in Russia from Rostov-on-Don: 

CBC News on the ground in Ukraine and Russia

4 months ago
Duration 9:17
As the Russian invasion of Ukraine begins, the CBC's Margaret Evans reports from the streets of Kyiv, while Briar Stewart details the situation in Russia from Rostov-on-Don.

To facilitate border crossings, Poland lifted quarantine rules on Thursday for people arriving from outside the EU without a lab-certified negative COVID-19 test.

The country is home to the region's largest Ukrainian community, numbering about one million, and is the easiest EU country to reach from Kyiv.

Warsaw called for the "fiercest possible sanctions" against Russia.

Elsewhere in the region, Czech President Milos Zeman, long sympathetic to Moscow, called Russian President Vladimir Putin a "madman." Prague stopped issuing visas to Russians and ordered the closure of two Russian consulates.

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, who has also forged good ties with Putin, condemned Moscow's actions. He said Hungary would prepare humanitarian aid for Ukraine and was ready to receive refugees.

Cars line up to cross into Romania from Ukraine at Solotvyno, Ukraine, on Thursday. (Andreea Campeanu/Getty Images)

Groups of people fled into Hungary via the Beregsurany and Tiszabecs crossings, with some coming from as far away as Kyiv, a Reuters eyewitness said. Some arrived by car, but many pedestrians were also hauling suitcases across.

"No one wants to get conscripted, no one wants to die," Tamas Bodnar said at the border with Hungary. "It's clear that those who can, they flee."

Several hundred people also left Ukraine from a sliver of its territory sandwiched between Moldova and the Black Sea, crossing into Romania by ferry over the Danube River, local authorities said.

Slovak customs officials said passenger cars were having to wait up to 12 hours at the busiest of Slovakia's three road crossings with Ukraine.

Hospitals on standby

Poland was preparing a medical train to transport wounded Ukrainians and drew up a list of 1,230 hospitals that could admit the injured, the Health Ministry said. The Polish army raised the level of preparedness of some units.

"We will do everything to ensure that every person who enters the territory of Poland has access to health care, including hospitalization," the ministry said.

Preperations are underway at a reception centre for refugees from Ukraine in Dorohusk, Poland. Poland said Thursday it will open nine reception centres along its border with Ukraine in anticipation of an influx of refugees after Russia invaded the country. (Janek Skarzynski/AFP/Getty Images)

Poland said it set up reception points for refugees near border crossings.

Slovakia said it was ready to help refugees, too.

"We can predict with near certainty that Russian aggression will drive out many Ukrainian women and men from their country," Prime Minister Eduard Heger said. "Please let's have compassion and understanding for them."

Slovakia will send up to 1,500 troops to its border with Ukraine, where additional crossings will be set up, Defence Minister Jaroslav Nad said. Hungary has also said it will send troops to its border to help process refugees.

The governor of Slovakia's eastern Kosice region, Rostislav Trnka, told Reuters that about 2,000 beds and some 60 gyms had been prepared to help house refugees.

Canada expediting Ukrainian immigration applications

Germany offered humanitarian help to countries bordering Ukraine. German media have cited estimates that between 200,000 and one million people may flee to the EU from Ukraine.

Meanwhile, Canada said Thursday it is expediting immigration applications from Ukrainians attempting to escape the conflict in their country, said Canada's minister of immigration, refugees and citizenship.

Sean Fraser said his department has already approved more than 1,800 Ukrainian immigration applications on a priority basis.

Vehicles line a highway in Kyiv as people attempt to leave Ukraine's capital following pre-offensive missile strikes by the Russian armed forces on Thursday. (Pierre Crom/Getty Images)

The Slovak railway halted services to Ukraine, and budget airline Wizz temporarily suspended all flights in and out of the country. Czech Airlines also suspended flights as Ukraine closed its airspace.

The Czech Republic, which does not border Ukraine but is home to 260,000 Ukrainians, also said it was ready to help refugees. Czech Railways offered rail cars with 6,000 seats and beds to help evacuate people if necessary.

Tens of thousands of Ukrainians also work in Slovakia and Hungary.

Some people are rushing to get out of Kyiv and other cities, while others scramble for key supplies: 

Romania is ready to grant humanitarian aid if needed, President Klaus Iohannis said on Thursday. He also called for the "consistent consolidation" of NATO's eastern flank.

Bulgarian President Rumen Radev said his country was preparing to evacuate by land more than 4,000 ethnic Bulgarians from Ukraine and was ready to host other Ukrainian refugees.

A Polish government spokesperson said Polish diplomatic missions in Ukraine would remain open "as long as possible," but the Foreign Ministry urged all Polish citizens to leave Ukraine.

Hungary also said its embassy in Kyiv remained open. The Czech Republic closed its diplomatic mission, though its consulate in the west Ukrainian city of Lviv remained open.

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