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Youth orchestra evacuated from Ukraine in partnership with Europe's classical music community

Up to 4 million people could attempt to flee Ukraine due to the Russian invasion according to the UN
Up to 4 million people could attempt to flee Ukraine due to the Russian invasion according to the UN   -   Copyright  AP Photo/Darko Vojinovic
By Tim Gallagher  with AP

An evacuation of young musicians who play with the Youth Symphony Orchestra of Ukraine is underway, as Europe’s classical music community plays a small part in the continent’s biggest refugee crisis since World War II.

Violins, cellos and violas littering a train platform in Hungary were accompanied by their young owners fresh from a long train journey. The press of people towards the Ukrainian borders meant 30 of their number were still unaccounted for.

Violinist Myroslava Sherbina says her instrument was the only thing she took as she fled Ukraine, along with the clothes she wore. The instrument has remained silent since the start of Russia's invasion of her country.

"I didn't want to play so I could hear the sirens and we could go to the bomb shelter," says the 20-year-old.

"I want to feel safe so I can practice, and not think that a bomb can fall and ruin my house," she adds.

AP/Darko Vojinovic
Volunteers wait in Hungary to greet Ukrainians fleeing the Russian invasionAP/Darko Vojinovic

She is among the more than 1.7 million people who have fled Ukraine in what the United Nations calls Europe's fastest-growing refugee crisis since World War II. The number is up from 1.5 million on Sunday, the U.N. refugee agency said.

This number could rise to 4 million people if Russia's offensive continues. On Monday, European Union foreign affairs policy chief Josep Borrell urged the mobilisation of "all the resources" of the 27-nation bloc to help countries welcoming them.

Sherbina spoke from the Hungarian train station as she and her companions made their way to Slovenia as part of a joint evacuation mission with a Slovenian orchestra.

"There's a group of about 90 people coming to this particular train station," said Uros Dokl, a volunteer from Slovenia who had travelled to greet the orchestra members.

"Not all of them are members of the orchestra, but they are young people playing music, and young people need guidance."

Europeans welcome Ukrainian refugees

Uncertainty and relief continued along the border among the thousands of arriving Ukrainians. Many were wrapped in blankets. Some held small children. They sought the basic necessities: food, shelter, sleep, support.

Under a canopy next to the train station in the Hungarian border town of Zahony, Tamas Marghescu stirred a cauldron of traditional meat stew. As an outdoorsman and the Hungary director for the International Council for Game and Wildlife Conservation, he called the meal well-suited for those who shivered in line for hours at the border.

AP/Darko Vojinovic
Food is prepared for refugees arriving from the east of UkraineAP/Darko Vojinovic

"When you're at home watching the news, you feel so helpless," his wife, Ilona, said. "It's … important for people when they come off those trains to have somebody smiling at them and to know that there are people here that care."

In Moldova, some families have opened their homes to refugees.

"It was a natural and beautiful process," said Sabina Nadejdin, who hosts pregnant Anastacsia Luybimova and her three small children. Like most other men, Luybimova's husband stayed behind in Ukraine.

Poland, where more than 1 million refugees have arrived, on Monday approved legislation offering them financial help and allowing them to stay legally in the country for 18 months.

Helping the Ukrainians is the most important challenge Poland has faced in decades, Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said, and efforts "cannot be only spontaneous."

At the Przemysl train station near the Medyka border crossing, the main point of arrival in Poland, the hall was packed and a banner in Ukrainian read, "Here, you are safe."