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Eastern European states are ready for a refugee catastrophe if Russia invades Ukraine, with perhaps millions of civilians crossing the border into neighboring countries, according to Western officials and charity workers. 

Apart from the humanitarian consequences, European authorities expect Russia and its allies to try to use any big movement for political goals, sowing divides within Europe and spreading anti-refugee sentiment, according to US sources informed on the matter. 

According to humanitarian groups, if Russian forces invade Ukraine, Ukrainian-speaking citizens will likely escape to European Union nations on Ukraine’s western border, Poland, Slovakia, Hungary, and Romania, with Poland absorbing a large portion of the initial wave.

Russian-speaking Ukrainians may choose to cross the border into Russia or Belarus, both of which are allied with Moscow. Significant numbers of Russian-speaking Ukrainians fled to Russia during the early phases of the crisis in eastern Ukraine eight years ago. 

Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia have also stated that they are ready to welcome refugees, with Ukrainians possibly entering from Poland or by commercial planes. Latvia said it was considering establishing a network of refugee shelters along its eastern border.

Experts are divided on whether Poland or other European Union countries bordering Ukraine would be able to welcome refugees on such a large scale. 

With the Covid-19 vaccination rate in Ukraine languishing at around 34%, EU authorities would also have to determine how to manage migrants who would need to be tested and perhaps quarantined for the coronavirus. 

Experts believe that the EU, the US, and other governments will need to step in to offer financial and other assistance to the nations bearing the brunt of the influx. 

A flood of refugees “would necessitate significant help from the United States,” according to Senator Chris Murphy, D-Conn., a member of the Foreign Relations Committee.

According to a White House National Security Council official, the Biden administration is “prepared for a variety of situations, including this one.” 

The United States is collaborating closely with European allies and partners “who will be on the front lines of any response, as well as international organizations and NGOs, on how to support those displaced internally and those who may seek safety in neighboring countries,” according to a spokesperson. 

The government has a team of catastrophe specialists in Ukraine and the region who are “closely monitoring the situation,” according to the spokeswoman.

According to humanitarian groups and analysts, European policymakers are straining to plan for contingencies because to the ambiguity surrounding Russia’s intentions and whether Moscow would execute a small military operation or a large strike that may effect the entire territory of Ukraine. 

Romanian Interior Minister Lucian Bode stated that his administration has developed an action plan that takes into account a number of eventualities. “We’re already calculating how many refugee camps we can set up in a reasonably short period of time, 10, 12, 24 hours,” he told the private television network B1.

Instead of a huge migration, the EU anticipates a slow flow of Ukrainians heading west, with some joining existing expatriate groups, according to US officials.

After Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in 2014, when Moscow seized and annexed the Crimean peninsula, and a following battle in eastern Ukraine between the government and Russian-backed rebels, around 1.5 million Ukrainians left their homes. The majority, on the other hand, remained in Ukraine. 

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees stated that it was not yet able to provide an estimate of how many people would be displaced in the event of a fresh war, or how many would attempt to flee the country.

In recent decades, Europe has suffered two refugee crises. More than 2 million individuals left the turmoil in former Yugoslavia to northern Europe in the 1990s. More recently, from 2011 to 2016, more over 3 million Syrian migrants sought asylum in the EU. 

The migration caused by the Syrian crisis sparked political upheaval in Europe, with anti-immigrant politicians attempting to stymie the admission of mostly Muslim migrants, whom they saw as a danger to Europe’s secular traditions. Some nations also questioned whether persons fleeing poverty should be granted refuge in the EU.

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