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Eastern Europe braces for refugees as Russia-Ukraine conflict simmers


Countries in Eastern Europe are making preparations for potentially hundreds of thousands of people fleeing Ukraine if the crisis with Russia escalates, with some Polish towns already listing places available and Romania considering refugee camps, according to Reuters. 

Russia has more than 100,000 troops massed near Ukraine, and the United States has warned that an attack could begin in the coming days. Moscow denies any such plans and has accused the West of “hysteria”.

Nonetheless, governments and towns near the Ukrainian border, from north to south, are getting ready to take in refugees, if needed.

Poland said on Monday it was preparing for a worst case scenario. Deputy Foreign Minister Marcin Przydacz told Catholic broadcaster Radio Plus he was “preparing for large numbers so as to be better prepared”.

The mayor of the eastern Polish town of Ciechanow, which has a population of around 44,000, said it was ready to receive around 80 refugees in a hotel within 48 hours, at a cost of 140 zlotys per night including food.

“We have been assured that the state budget will fully cover the costs,” Krzysztof Kosinski told Reuters.

On Sunday, the northern town of Elblag said it had 420 places available. The central Polish city of Torun said it had 96 places for refugees. In the south, the city of Czestochowa said it has 1,100 places.

Romania, which also shares a long border with Ukraine, finalized an action plan on Sunday, Interior Minister Lucian Bode told private television station B1. “We know that Poland is preparing to take 1 million migrants. Is Romania ready to take hundreds of thousands of refugees in an uncontrolled influx?,” he said.

“We have taken several hypotheses into account (…) We are currently analyzing how many refugee camps we can install in a relatively short time, 10, 12, 24 hours. We are analyzing existing lodging capacities in border counties but we are also discussing the second stage, with neighboring counties, and the third stage across the country,” added Bode.

Slovakia‘s defense minister has said that there may be tens of thousands of refugees even under a limited conflict. Interior Minister Robert Mikulec said the government was preparing for various scenarios with its armed forces and was in close contact with the authorities in Ukraine.

“We also have a playbook and an action plan in the event of war,”  Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban said on Saturday, stressing that „Hungary’s interests are clear: first and foremost, war must be avoided.”

The Baltic states of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia have also said they were readying to accept refugees.