By Jiri Skacel
SNINA, Slovakia – People fleeing war in Ukraine poured into Poland, Romania, Hungary and Slovakia on Friday as Russian missiles pounded the capital Kyiv, with many waiting for hours at congested border crossings.
A day after Russian President Vladimir Putin launched an invasion, it was mostly women and children crossing, after Ukraine restricted passage for men between 18 and 60 years old.
Iryna, 36, and her mother set out from Kyiv on Thursday with her two girls aged 2 and 4, before crossing into Ubla in Slovakia.
“We left my husband there, so he is still there supporting our government,” she said on Friday at a hotel in the border town of Snina. “We pray for Ukraine and I hope everything will be fine,” she said.
Local media in Poland said some had waited 16-18 hours to cross into Medyka in southern Poland in freezing temperatures.
Border authorities said 29,000 people had entered Poland from Ukraine on Thursday, though it was unclear how many were war refugees and not foreigners going home.
Poland’s deputy interior minister Paweł Szefernaker said Ukrainian bus drivers were unable to drive across the border as conscription-age men were being held back in Ukraine.
Michał Mielniczuk, a spokesman for the southern Polish region of Podkarpackie said temporary accommodation was being offered to people arriving.
“The vast majority continue on to other places throughout Poland after receiving a warm meal,” he told the PAP news agency.
On the border with northern Romania, women were crying as they bid goodbye to male loved ones, setting off to cross into Sighetu Marmatiei, a Reuters witness said.
Long queues had formed as cars waited to board a ferry over the Danube river into Isaccea, a town between Moldova and the Black Sea, local media in Romania showed.
Slovak authorities urged people to donate blood and set up hospitals with 5,380 beds assigned for the army or NATO use.
Across central Europe, on NATO’s eastern flank, volunteers were putting up messages on social media to organise housing and transport for people arriving from the borders.
Activists were setting up food and hot drink distribution points and vets were offering to take care of pets.
Bulgaria started issuing passports to its citizens in Kyiv who needed travel documents and had sent four buses to the Ukrainian capital to evacuate people.
Three buses, evacuating some 130 Bulgarians will leave Odessa on Friday, the foreign ministry spokesman said. Some 250,000 ethnic Bulgarians live in Ukraine.