As the West waits in fear for a full-scale Russian invasion of Ukraine, Poland, Romania and other European allies are readying themselves to receive hundreds of thousands of refugees from their neighbor.
On Tuesday, Romanian Defense Minister Vasile Dincu revealed Bucharest was willing to take in up to 500,000 displaced people in the event of a major conflict.
“There are several estimates, but we could receive over 500,000 refugees, that is … the number for which we have prepared alongside the interior ministry and other institutions,” Dincu told Reuters.
“There is a plan prepared for all large cities, there are areas for this near the borders,” he added, appearing to refer to refugee camps.
Romania shares a roughly 370-mile border with Ukraine. The frontier is located approximately 330 miles southwest of the capital city of Kyiv.
“We are also not expecting a major influx coming here now, but one never knows,” Dincu added.
Earlier this month, Poland’s deputy interior minister Maciej Wąsik revealed in a radio interview that the Warsaw government has to be prepared for a “worst case scenario” and has readied “for a wave of up to a million people.” Poland, located to the west of Ukraine, shares a roughly 330-mile long border with its eastern neighbor.
However, it’s unclear how many Ukrainians will choose to leave.
Kyiv Finance Minister Serhiy Marchenko recently touted Ukraine’s “visa-free” travel arrangements with members of the European Union, and claimed that those who wish to depart “have already done so,” according to the Guardian.
“If Russia escalates and people decide to go to Europe to find a safer place, it’s likely to be a smaller portion of people,” he said.
Over the past few weeks, the United States has repeatedly encouraged Americans still in Ukraine to get out, warning that US forces will not enter the country to assist in evacuations even if Russian forces invade.
On Monday evening, the US temporarily relocated Ukraine embassy personnel to Poland due to the growing Russian threat. Last week, operations were moved from Kyiv to the far western city of Lviv – approximately 45 miles from the Polish border.
“For security reasons, Department of State personnel currently in Lviv will spend the night in Poland,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement. “Our personnel will regularly return to continue their diplomatic work in Ukraine and provide emergency consular services. They will continue to support the Ukrainian people and the Ukrainian government, coordinating on diplomatic efforts.”
Last week, Russian separatist leader Denis Pushilin ordered a mass evacuation of all women, children and elderly civilians in Eastern Ukraine to Russia, claiming Kyiv was planning to invade the rebel-controlled parts of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions.
Ukraine has denied the accusation.
At a meeting of Russia’s Security Council Monday, Federal Security Service Director Alexei Bortnikov claimed that nearly 70,000 civilians had left the self-declared Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR) and Luhansk People’s Republic (LPR). The figure could not be independently verified.
Fears of a massive invasion grew Tuesday, one day after Russian President Vladimir Putin recognized the DPR and LPR as independent states and dispatched “peacekeeping” forces to the region.