Refugees flee Ukraine-Russia conflict with pets and family members

Ten days after Russia invaded Ukraine, 1.45 million people have fled the battered country, according to a UN affiliate.

SIRET, Romania — Life and death choices leave little time for feelings. War refugees fleeing Russian munitions in Ukraine grabbed only the essentials for their journey to safety: key documents, a beloved pet, often not even a change of clothes.

Lena Nesterova remembers the hour when her fate was sealed: February 24, 5:34 a.m., the first explosions in the Ukrainian capital, Kiev, which signaled the dreaded Russian invasion.

Driven by fear, she said, they took “an only daughter, a dog, all the documents and left Kiev with only the clothes on their backs.”

“We left everything. We have no clothes, nothing,” Nesterova said, adding. “And we don’t know what will come after.”

His daughter, Margo, 18, cradled the family toy Chihuahua, lovingly dressed in a purple puffer jacket, from the safety of a refugee camp in the border town of Siret, Romania.

Ten days after Russia invaded Ukraine, 1.45 million people have fled the battered country, according to the UN-affiliated Organization for Migration in Geneva. The UN has predicted that the total number of refugees could reach 4 million, to become the biggest crisis of this century in this century.

Most arrived in Poland and other neighboring European Union countries, with the bloc granting people fleeing Ukraine temporary protection and residency permits. Some are starting to go to more distant countries.

More than 100,000 have reached Slovakia, with many planning to continue to the neighboring Czech Republic which has a large Ukrainian community. The Czech authorities are creating classes for thousands of children who will receive an education in their native Ukrainian.

Hundreds of people arrive every day by train in the German capital, Berlin. Further afield in Italy, 10,000 refugees have arrived, 40% of them children, with the Education Ministry indicating plans to get them into classrooms so they can integrate.

Iryna Bogavchuk wanted to be lightweight for the trip to Romania from Chernivtsi, through the Carpathian Mountains in southern Ukraine, just 40 kilometers (30 miles) – and what feels like a lifetime – away. In better times, his hometown was teeming with young people, drawn to the university whose 19th-century architecture earned it a spot on UNESCO’s World Heritage List.

“I took my daughter,” she said, caressing the child who was sleeping on her lap. “I hope we will be fine.”

Instead of personal effects, which would have weighed her down, Bogavchuk brought Polaroids, which she rummages through her wallet to produce. Happier times: his daughter’s 10th birthday; a photo with her husband, whom she left behind as Ukrainian men of military age are banned from leaving the country. “I miss him,” she said, bursting into tears.

Ludmilla Nadzemovska traveled to Hungary from the Ukrainian capital, Kiev. She planned for the worst: buying travel crates for her four cats a month ago when US intelligence indicated Russia’s intention to invade. But the decision to leave was made in an instant: after learning that his neighbors had been killed by Russian forces.

“I want to go back,” she said, sitting in a camp in Tiszabecs, Hungary, just across the border. “But my priority is my family and pets.”

In neighboring Moldova, a non-EU country nestled between Ukraine and Romania, hundreds of Roma families are hosted at a sports complex in the capital, Chisinau.

Maria Cherepovskaia, 50, walked the first 15 kilometers from her home in the eastern Russian-controlled enclave of Donetsk. She received help from people, including transport and food, to make the rest of the nearly 900 kilometer journey to Moldova.

“We will be here until the end of the war. We don’t know where to go,” she said. “There they bomb. Much, too much, what can we do?

Bela Szandelszky in Tiszabecs, Hungary, Helena Alves in Chisinau, Moldova, Karel Janicek in Prague and Frances D’Emilio in Rome contributed.

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