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Europe Braces For Refugees As Russia Attacks Ukraine’s Capital

Russia’s military invasion of Ukraine, which reached the outskirts of the capital city Kyiv on Friday, has raised alarm in neighboring European countries that a humanitarian crisis is brewing on their doorstep.

Speaking at the U.N. Headquarters in New York on Wednesday, U.S. Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield warned that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, a country of 44 million, could “create a new refugee crisis, one of the largest facing the world today,” displacing up to 5 million people.

“Russia’s actions could cause a spike in food prices and lead to even more desperate hunger in places like Libya, Yemen and Lebanon,” Thomas-Greenfield said. “The tidal waves of suffering this war will cause are unthinkable.”

U.N. Human Rights office spokesperson Ravina Shamdasani gave an account of the human toll of the attack on Friday, saying there have been at least 127 civilian casualties in Ukraine, including 25 people killed and 102 wounded as a result of “shelling and air strikes.” Shamdasani noted that this could be an underestimate.

U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi said the agency is monitoring reports of people fleeing their homes. He emphasized that civilian lives must be protected in accordance with international law.

“The humanitarian consequences on civilian populations will be devastating,” Grandi said in a statement Thursday. “There are no winners in war, but countless lives will be torn apart.”

Romanian Interior Minister Lucian Bode said more than 10,000 Ukrainians have sought refuge in Romania over the past 24 hours, according to Reuters.

Speaking to Euronews from Poland, European Commissioner for Home Affairs Ylva Johansson said Thursday that the European Union is “well prepared” in the event of a massive influx of Ukrainian refugees.

“Poland is, of course, a key country here,” Johansson said. “I’m quite convinced about that contingency plans that they have. And I must say, of course, nobody knows exactly if this will be enough or not. But I think that they [Poland] are quite well prepared and this is good.”

CNN’s Scott McLean reported Friday that 29,000 Ukrainians have entered Poland since Russia’s invasion began. According to a BBC report, at least 1,000 Ukrainians arrived overnight by train in the Polish city of Przemysl alone.

U.S. troops in Poland have been tasked with helping the country open up three refugee processing centers near the Poland-Ukraine border, according to The New York Times. Nearly 6,000 U.S. soldiers arrived in Poland this month.

“We have been preparing for several weeks for a wave of refugees that might occur,” Polish Interior Minister Mariusz Kaminski told the Times. “We will do everything to provide safe shelter in Poland for everyone who needs it.”

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This is not the first time Europe has had to coordinate a response to refugees. In 2015, more than 1 million people sought asylum in the EU, Norway and Switzerland, with fully half of those asylum claims arising from Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq, according to a Pew Research report. The massive influx of migrants in 2015 contributed to political tensions across the bloc in the subsequent years, with far-right political parties gaining prominence across Europe, in part by stoking xenophobia and using anti-immigrant rhetoric.

Meanwhile, charities in the U.K. have called on their government to lead the international effort to support displaced populations from Ukraine.

World leaders have spoken out in stark terms against Russia, vowing that Russian President Vladimir Putin will pay a price for his actions, as CNN reported that U.S. intelligence chiefs are “concerned Kyiv could fall to Russia within days.”

On Thursday, U.S. President Joe Biden announced further measures targeting Russia’s currency and banks.

“Putin is the aggressor,” Biden said. “Putin chose this war. And now he and his country will bear the consequences.”

This article originally appeared on HuffPost.

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