East Europe preparing for possible new Ukrainian refugee wave as winter nears – Reuters

East Europe preparing for possible new Ukrainian refugee wave as winter nears – Reuters

Eastern European countries are preparing to reopen reception centers and are restocking food supplies in anticipation of a possible fresh surge in Ukrainian refugees as winter looms and Russia targets Ukraine's power grid and heating plants.

That's according to Reuters, Ukrinform reports.

Data from the UN refugee agency UNHCR shows that some 6.9 million people are believed displaced internally within Ukraine, and 4.5 million Ukrainian refugees are currently registered under various protection schemes across Europe, many of them in the EU states bordering Ukraine - Slovakia, Poland, Hungary and Romania.

After an initial surge following Russia's invasion on February 24, the number of refugees heading west out of Ukraine dropped in late spring. There has been no big uptick in numbers so far this autumn but charities say there are now signs of increased movement across the borders and are stepping up preparations.

Slovakia's contingency plan reckons as many as 700,000 people could cross onto its territory over three months due to tumbling temperatures and continued heavy fighting in parts of eastern and southern Ukraine.

"An increase in numbers is being felt, and is expected. It is currently up 15%," said Roman Dohovic, an aid coordinator for the eastern Slovak city of Kosice.

In Hungary, Zsofia Dobis-Lucski, spokesperson for the Hungarian Reformed Church Aid, an NGO working at the border, said the number of daily arrivals at the Zahony train station close to the border, had jumped tenfold to around 300-500 since Russia's bombardment of Ukrainian cities intensified.

That is still below the 1,000 per day seen in the spring but power shortages in Ukraine are expected to boost arrivals in coming weeks.

The eastern Polish town of Przemysl, the busiest gateway for refugees since the Russian invasion, has been largely quiet, with just a few dozen people currently staying at the local reception center, a fraction of the 4,000 seen in the spring.

"We have to prepare for winter, we have long anticipated that it may be difficult and we must be ready for some new wave of refugees," said Witold Wolczyk from Przemysl city hall.

Czech Interior Minister Vit Rakusan said last week after a trip to Kyiv that about a fifth of the refugees who registered to stay in Europe had returned to Ukraine - and some of those may return due to harsh winter conditions. The Czech Republic does not border Ukraine but has been a popular destination for refugees, giving temporary permission to stay to around 457,000.

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