Heartbreaking photos capture the desperate crush of young and old trying to flee besieged Ukraine on Friday — part of an exodus of more than a million people in what is expected to be the “biggest refugee crisis this century.”
The images from Kyiv’s central rail station show the agony of those pushing to get onto already packed trains ahead of the expected arrival of a 40-mile convoy of Russian tanks and military vehicles heading to the capital.
Many young children, including babies, are shown in tears — while members of the Red Cross help an elderly woman crumpled on the ground in despair and tears after a train pulled out.
In another photo, a man staying behind to defend the capital holds his hands to the train window — met by those of a young child inside, an agonizing scene repeatedly played out during the past nine days of the war launched by Russia.
The snapshot from just one train station comes as more than 1.2 million people had fled Ukraine by Friday, according to the UN refugee agency, which has said the situation is set to be the “biggest refugee crisis this century.”
That figure is already more than 2 percent of Ukraine’s population, and the UN agency expects the final number to soar to more than 4 million, or nearly 10 percent of the country.
In just one week, the exodus almost matches the number of people who sought refuge in Europe in a whole year during the 2015 migration crisis.
The influx is “enormous, enormous,” UN refugee chief Filipo Grandi said during a visit to a border crossing in neighboring Moldova.
At least 500,000 children have been forced to flee their homes during the first week of the invasion, according to the UN children’s agency.
Despite Russia’s claim that it was not targeting civilians, Ukraine said Friday that at least 28 children have been killed and another 64 injured during the bombardment.
“Maternity hospitals, kindergartens and schools have been destroyed,” presidential adviser Daria Herasymchuk said.
About 1.5 million children “remain in the areas affected by shelling and under siege, including orphans and children with disabilities who require immediate assistance, she warned.
One of those forced to flee his home, 7-year-old Bogdan, was taking his first-ever ride by train — a journey that ended up stretching 745 miles to cross the border into Slovakia.
He and his mom, Valerya Totskaya, 27, just fled with just their papers, some food, underwear and what they were wearing — a story echoed by countless families seeking a route out Ukraine.
“There was a river of people. Men pushed away other women and children to get their own on. It was, of course, horrible,” Totskaya told Reuters.
They eventually made it to a school-turned-shelter in Slovakia, much to the confusion of her young son, she said.
“He cried, ‘Mom, I want to go home!’ I said, ‘My son, that is impossible, there is a war going on,’ ” Totskaya recounted.
Tatyana Pelykh said it took her and her 11-year-old son four days of travel to get to the border with Romania — and then another 48 hours to actually get across.
“I feel that my body is here, but my heart and my soul are in Okhtyrka and Kharkiv,” she said, referring to the cities in Ukraine where her parents and best friend remain hunkered down in basements and garages under Russian attack.
The European Union announced Thursday that it would grant people fleeing Ukraine temporary protection and residency permits.
So far, more than half of those fleeing — nearly 650,000 — have crossed into neighboring Poland, UN data shows. More than 100,000 have also gone to Hungary and Moldova.
Only 384 have crossed to neighbor Belarus — one of Russia’s closest allies and accused of helping the Kremlin’s invasion.
Brazil — which has Latin America’s biggest population of Ukrainians and their descendants — also said it will issue temporary humanitarian visas and residency permits for those affected by the war.
With Post wires