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As presidents meet, Ukraine refugees just want fighting to end

People flee Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, in Medyka
People walk after crossing Polish border, amid Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, at the border checkpoint in Medyka, Poland, March 19, 2022.
REUTERS/Kacper Pempel

Ukrainian refugee Viktoria Lysykh had one message for world leaders after she crossed the border into Poland on Friday: “I want the war to end as soon as possible … In what way exactly? By any means.”

The 35-year-old arrived in Przemysl railway station with her teenage daughter and their two pet cats, as U.S President Joe Biden was preparing to visit the same frontier region to discuss the conflict with his Polish counterpart.

Asked what she hoped the high-level meeting would achieve, Lysykh laughed. The best hope was that the conflict would end “in the best way possible for Ukraine”. But above all, she just wanted to go back to her home in the Donetsk region.

“Let’s cease (fire) so that all of this will be over. In what way exactly this will be achieved doesn’t matter at all.”

It had taken Lysykh and her daughter 19 hours to get to the frontier. She was planning to travel to Warsaw and then on to Germany where she was hoping to find work – her background is in human resources with a sideline as a beautician.

There were no friends or family waiting at their destination to take them in.

Around her in the station, more women and children kept arriving, loaded with bags. Around 32,500 refugees crossed into Poland on Thursday alone, border authorities said.

‘IF THEY CLOSED THE SKY’

In all, Poland has taken in more than 2.23 million people, according to Poland’s border authority, more than half the refugees who fled Ukraine since Russia invaded.

Poland’s deputy education minister, Marzena Machalek, said on Friday around 700,000 Ukrainian children would be looking for places in local schools.

Biden was due to meet refugee organizations and sit down with Polish President Andrzej Duda in the town of Rzeszow, about 80 km (50 miles) from the station.

His visit comes a day after he and other Western leaders put on a show of unity against what Russia calls its “special military operation” in Ukraine.

At an unprecedented triple summit in Brussels, NATO announced plans for new combat units in four eastern European countries near Ukraine, while the United States and Britain increased aid and expanded sanctions.

Biden annouced more plans on Friday, saying the United States will supply more liquid natural gas to the European Union to help it cut its reliance on gas supplies from Russia.

Back at Przemysl, a 52-year-old refugee called Alla said there was only one thing that would stop the fighting quickly – something that Western powers have repeatedly ruled out – a NATO-enforced no-fly zone over Ukrainian territory.

“If they closed the sky, then they would stop bombing our cities … and then the war would end fast,” she said as she waited to get on another train deeper into Poland.

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