Over the past two weeks, some 2 million people have fled Ukraine for neighboring countries after Russia invaded the Eastern European nation. More than half of them have headed to Poland, overwhelming train and bus stations by the border. The United Nations human rights agency estimates over 400 civilians have been killed in Ukraine since the invasion, with the real number likely much higher.
The refugee crisis taking place is the worst Europe has seen since World War II. On Wednesday, Ukrainian officials accused Russian forces of using airstrikes to destroy a children's hospital in Mariupol, in southeast Ukraine. The number of casualties was unclear; Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy tweeted there were children under the wreckage. Ukrainian officials have also accused Russians of shelling evacuation roots out of Mariupol and holding 400,000 people hostage in the city, which has been without electricity, heat, water or food for days.
Russia and Ukraine have struggled to reach an agreement on humanitarian corridors that would allow people in Ukraine safe passage to flee cities under attack, and many who've reached safety faced dangerous conditions along the way. NBC News correspondent Jay Gray has been reporting for NBCLX from the Ukraine-Poland border. Here's what he's seen so far.
Many refugees walked for days to get from Ukraine to Poland
Last week, Gray showed us around a check-in station in Poland with 5,000 beds a mile from the border with Ukraine. In just one day, he saw thousands of people pass through, many of whom were getting their first hot meal, water and shelter in days. He said he talked to one man who walked for five days to get to safety.
Number of Ukrainian refugees at site doubles in 24 hours
On Friday, Gray checked in again from the same site in Poland, where he said the crowds had grown larger than he thought was possible, seemingly doubling in 24 hours. He observed people from all over Europe carrying signs offering to take families to other countries, from Italy to Belgium. Why are more people attempting to evacuate than earlier in the crisis? Gray said one man told him he intended to stay, but the explosions were so unrelenting that he knew he couldn't any longer.
Polish train station has "more people than it could possibly handle" coming from Ukraine
At a train station in Przemysl, Poland, a mile and a half from the border on Monday, Gray was surrounded by "more people than [the station] could possible handle," he said. Some refugees had been waiting two to three days to be able to get on a train. After eight days of reporting at the border, he said he'd never seen the crowds as large as they were on Monday.
Where do Ukrainians go after reaching Poland?
At the Medyka border crossing in Poland on Tuesday, overrun buses attempted to transport refugees to train stations to move farther into Poland or to other European countries. Gray said some had carried their children through bitter cold and snow to get to this point after leaving family behind, often men who stayed to fight. While there's excitement at having reached safety, many of the refugees are struggling to figure out where they should go.
"Unbelievable human tragedy unfolding at the [Ukraine-Poland] border"
Jay Gray checked in from what he called "the crossroads between the fighting in the war in Ukraine and Poland, where people are packed in, waiting." The crowds around him were trying to squeeze their way on to buses heading to train stations to get even farther away from Ukraine, but many didn't want to go too far because they had loved ones back home. At 9 p.m. local time, waves of people were continuing to arrive.
Gray also got the chance to play with Ukrainian children, who offered him some of the candy they'd been given at the refugee site. "It's heartbreaking," he said. "You want to take them all to a place where you know they'll be safe."