Ukraine exodus intensifies as West considers oil embargo

Some 129,000 people fled the war to Poland on Saturday March 5, the Polish Interior Ministry announced on Sunday, compared to 106,000 the day before. The total number of refugees in Poland now stands at 922,000 and continues to rise.

People have also fled to Romania, Slovakia and Moldova. The UN estimated on Saturday that around 1.5 million people have already arrived in Europe, while warning that up to 4 million could come in numbers that would eclipse the EU’s refugee crisis in 2015, while around 1 million people have fled to Europe, mostly from Syria.

It is “Europe’s fastest growing refugee crisis since World War II,” UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi tweeted on Sunday.

Those who arrived in Poland were taken to makeshift shelters in schools and gymnasiums, fed, housed for a day or two, then put on free trains or buses to travel further into Poland or elsewhere in Europe.

Those who arrived were cold, hungry and scared, Chris Melzer, a UNHCR spokesperson based in Rzeszów, about 60 km from the Ukrainian border, told EUobserver on Sunday.

Some experts said Russia hoped the refugee exodus would create political problems in Europe, even though Russian anti-EU and anti-migrant propaganda outlets RT and Sputnik have now been taken off the air by European leaders .

Russia was trying to ‘take advantage of this humanitarian catastrophe to attack them [Ukraine’s neighbours] without going to war with the EU and NATO,” said Keir Giles, senior consultant for the Russia and Eurasia program at British think tank Chatham House last Wednesday.

But if so, there were no signs of hostility towards Ukrainians in Poland at this stage, UNHCR’s Melzer said.

The refugees were cared for by local groups of volunteers, including doctors, firefighters, nuns and scouts, as they crossed the border, he said. “You see ordinary Poles standing at the border with signs like ‘I can host a family for two weeks’ or ‘I can drive you to Warsaw,'” Melzer said.

Waiting times for those trying to cross into Poland had been reduced from three days to around 10 hours, and non-Ukrainians fleeing the fighting were also allowed to enter. “Poles let anyone in – even if you don’t have a passport,” Melzer said.

There were no signs of refugees arriving in large numbers at Warsaw’s main railway station over the weekend. But the effects of the war are being felt in the Polish capital, where almost all available rental accommodation is already occupied.

German media also reported over the weekend that some 10,000 Ukrainian refugees a day began arriving in Berlin.

The exodus comes as Russia continues to fire into civilian areas of Ukrainian cities in tactics reminiscent of its siege of Grozny in Chechnya in 1999. At the same time, the Kremlin continues to issue threatening warnings against Western intervention.

Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Saturday that if Western powers tried to impose a no-fly zone, it would have “catastrophic consequences not only for Europe but also for the whole world”.

He also said economic sanctions amounted to a “declaration of war”, while the Russian Foreign Ministry called on the West to “stop injecting weapons” into Ukraine.

Imposing a no-fly zone would force NATO to strike Russian air defenses deep in Russia and Belarus, in what NATO fears could provoke a nuclear confrontation.

During a visit to the region over the weekend, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken dodged questions from the press about how the West might respond to Ukraine’s growing calls to establish a no-fly zone.

But Blinken said further arms deliveries and more sanctions – including an oil embargo against Russia – were being considered despite threats from Moscow.

The United States and Poland were also “very, very actively” looking to deliver new American fighter jets to Poland so that Poland could give its old Russian-made planes to Ukrainian pilots, Blinken said in Rzeszów on Saturday.

“We are now talking with our European partners and allies to look in a coordinated manner at the prospect of banning the import of Russian oil while ensuring that there is always an adequate supply of oil in world markets,” he said. Blinken on Sunday during a visit to Moldova. .

But for a European diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity, the United States would need to get OPEC, the global oil cartel, to increase its production or release oil from its own strategic reserves to make that happen. “Without that, he [a Russia oil ban] would be difficult,” he said.

Despite alleged Russian airstrikes even in the west of the country, Blinken also briefly crossed into Ukraine to meet Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba there on Saturday.

“I thought it was important when we met – symbolically – to cross the border and stand together in Ukraine,” Blinken said.

“The highest demand we have is for combat aircraft, attack aircraft and air defense systems,” Kuleba said. “Even today we shot down three Russian attack planes, which were bombing our cities, using Stingers [US-made anti-aircraft missiles],” he said.

Comments are closed.