EU steps up humanitarian aid to Ukraine, expects millions more refugees

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BRUSSELS, March 8 (Reuters) - The European Union on Tuesday assigned 500 million euros ($547 million) for humanitarian aid to Ukraine, saying it had taken in two million refugees fleeing the Russian invasion so far and expected millions more.

Russian forces have subjected some Ukrainian cities and towns to devastating bombardment and left places like the port of Mariupol without power or water for days, putting to flight hundreds of thousands in the country of 44 million people.

"This will not be over soon. (Russian President Vladimir)Putin is fighting his war without remorse, restraint or mercy," EU Home Affairs Commissioner Ylva Johansson told the European Parliament. "More is to come. Worse is to come. Millions more will flee and we must welcome them."

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The United Nations' refugee agency said on Tuesday it could soon have to increase its estimate of likely refugee numbers from the four million assumed in its current Ukrainian humanitarian aid plans. read more

Over 12 days, the EU has let in more people than in 2015 and 2016 combined, when war in Syria triggered the last major immigration wave to Europe, dividing the 27-nation bloc.

Johansson said more than one million people had arrived in Poland, almost half a million in Romania and more than 100,000 in both Hungary and Slovakia, the four EU neighbours bordering Ukraine to the east.

"Everyone fleeing the war ... is allowed to cross the border and are welcome in the EU," said Johansson, adding only around 8,000 Ukrainians claimed asylum last week, while most travelled on to friends and family already living in the bloc.

People arrive to a temporary accommodation and transport hub for refugees, after fleeing the Russian invasion of Ukraine, in Przemysl, Poland, March 8, 2022. REUTERS/Fabrizio Bensch

She highlighted the plight of unaccompanied minors who are most of at risk of falling victim to human trafficking.

Part of the latest 500 million euros of humanitarian aid will go to Ukraine's neighbour Moldova, where a pro-Western government is also under pressure from Moscow.

Under an emergency EU decision, Ukrainian refugees are allowed to work, send children to school, get housing and social welfare swiftly. But it remains to be seen when and how they will be distributed among member states.

Since 2015, the EU has been bitterly divided over how to share out migrants and refugees from the Middle East and Africa.

Eastern EU countries led by Poland and Hungary refused to take in anyone, saying this would have threatened their national security and their Christian traditions.

They have now changed tack to allow in mostly Christian Orthodox Ukrainians.

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Reporting by Gabriela Baczynska Editing by Mark Heinrich

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