Approximately 200 young Ukrainians with physical and mental disabilities are among the 1 million refugees who've made a precarious winter journey to cross Ukraine's borders and escape attacks by Russian invaders.
Residents of the Svyatoshinksy orphanage for boys and the Darnytskyy orphanage for girls, which are both in Kyiv, arrived by train in Zahony, Hungary, on Wednesday, en route to the city of Opole in Southwestern Poland, the Associated Press reports.
According to the AP, the residents and their chaperones weathered Russian gunfire and air strikes before departing their homes with the help of Kyiv's deputy mayor, the city's child protection office and the Catholic relief organization Caritas.
"Territorially, the orphanages are where the rockets flew, where there were bursts of rifle fire. A metro station near the orphanage was blown up," the Svyatoshinksy director, Larissa Leonidovna, told the AP. "We spent more than an hour underground during a bombing."
The group left the capital city by bus and headed toward the Polish border but came across a line of cars that stretched for miles as even more Ukrainians flee the Russian invasion now in its second week.
"In just seven days we have witnessed the exodus of one million refugees from Ukraine to neighbouring countries," the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), Filippo Grandi, said in a tweet on Wednesday.
The group of young people from the orphanages traveled to Hungary instead of waiting untold hours to cross into Poland.
"It is very difficult, you can see that it is very difficult, they all need special care and support," Leonidovna told the AP of the children in her care.
The UNHCR estimates 4 million people may flee Ukraine, whose total population is 44 million, in the coming weeks and months and said the situation appears to be Europe's largest refugee crisis this century.
A spokesperson for the agency praised Ukraine's neighbors for keeping their borders open to civilians as they pour out of the country.
"We have seen tremendous solidarity and hospitality from the countries receiving refugees, including from the authorities and local communities," Shabia Mantoo said in a statement.
The young people — who have severe physical and mental disabilities, according to the AP — boarded four buses in Zahony to complete a second, 350-mile leg of their journey.
In Opole, they will be placed in rehabilitation centers, according to the report.
Russia's attack on Ukraine continues after their forces launched a large-scale invasion on Feb. 24 — the first major land conflict in Europe in decades.
Details of the fighting change by the day, but hundreds of civilians have already been reported dead or wounded, including children.
"You don't know where to go, where to run, who you have to call. This is just panic," Liliya Marynchak, a 45-year-old teacher in Ivano-Frankivsk, Ukraine, told PEOPLE of the moment her city was bombed — one of numerous accounts of bombardment by the Russians.
The invasion, ordered by Russian President Vladimir Putin, has drawn condemnation around the world and increasingly severe economic sanctions against Russia.
With NATO forces massing in the region around Ukraine, various countries have also pledged aid or military support to the resistance. Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy called for peace talks — so far unsuccessful — while urging his country to fight back.
Putin insists Ukraine has historic ties to Russia and he is acting in the best security interests of his country. Zelenskyy vowed not to bend.
"Nobody is going to break us, we're strong, we're Ukrainians," he told the European Union in a speech in the early days of the fighting, adding, "Life will win over death. And light will win over darkness."
Source: Yahoo News