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Last updated on 14 March 2022
As the war in Ukraine continues, more and more people decide to leave the country and seek shelter in neighboring countries. According to the UNHCR, over 2.15 million people have already left Ukraine since the beginning of the Russian attacks. More than half of them have arrived in Poland. Up to 4 million are expected to leave Ukraine in the weeks to come.
However, traveling through a country which has turned into a war zone and crossing borders without a passport and without a clear idea of the visa regulations in place can be scary. In search of support, it is not rare for Ukrainians fleeing war to turn towards their employer for help and advice.
In this blog post, we will summarize the main points to keep in mind when leaving Ukraine or Russia so you can share the information with your employees in Ukraine and Russia to support them during this difficult situation.
As Ukraine’s airspace is currently closed for passenger flights, there is no other way to leave the country than crossing the country’s land borders into Poland, Slovakia, Hungary, Romania and Moldova. You should also keep in mind that the Ukrainian government has issued a travel ban for male Ukrainian citizens aged 18 to 60 who are thus not allowed to leave the country anymore.
It is worth noting that COVID-19 related restrictions have been lifted for Ukrainian refugees entering Poland and that travel is possible with a Ukrainian photo document as proof of identity - no passport needed. Moldova and Slovakia have followed Poland’s example and equally allow Ukrainian residents to cross the border with a simple photo-ID or similar document.
Those with a car can leave Ukraine via one of the country’s many border crossing points. However, due to the influx of refugees trying to leave the country, long waiting times of up to 60 hours must be expected when crossing the border as CNN reports. For a full list of border crossings into Ukraine’s neighboring countries, you can check the website of the State Border Guard Service of Ukraine. Additional information on the status of the different checkpoints is available in this interactive map.
Before setting off, it is recommended to check local media reports to see whether all the roads on the way are open and whether there are any further travel restrictions, curfews or other measures applying under Ukraine’s State of Emergency.
Ukrainian Railways is currently operating special evacuation trains from the Luhansk, Donetsk and Odessa regions transporting people to Western parts of the country as well as across the border. Updated information on regular train schedules and operating train stations is available on their website and on their Facebook page.
Ukraine’s neighboring countries have also announced to send evacuation trains to help refugees leave the country. Some foreign railway companies like the Polish PKP Intercity or the Deutsche Bahn have declared to provide free transportation for holders of a Ukrainian passport or ID-card within Poland and from Poland to Germany respectively. Slovakia’s railway company is also operating evacuation trains.
Other national railway services have followed their example. According to official announcements, Ukrainian refugees are allowed to travel free of charge on trains in Austria, the Czech Republic, Hungary, France, Belgium, and Denmark - in addition to Germany, Poland and Slovakia. Those wishing to join the UK can get free tickets for the Eurostar. EU Transport provides updated information on free travel options on their Twitter account.
Buses are still operating to transport people to Western parts of the country or to the border, but queues are long and long waiting times have to be expected. On the other side of the border, there are shuttle buses provided by local organizations and privately organized transport options which can be found via dedicated Facebook groups such as United for Ukraine.
International bus companies are also stepping up to provide transportation for Ukrainians leaving the country. For instance, Flixbus is running additional services from the Ukrainian-Polish border and offers free rides for refugees of any nationality.
Holders of a Ukrainian passport can travel to the European Union without a visa and move freely between the different Schengen states. Under normal circumstances, they receive a stay permit of 90 days upon arrival. However, given the current circumstances, the EU has launched a new protection scheme under which Ukrainian refugees are now granted permission to stay in the EU for at least one year - renewable for up to two years, depending on the member state. Before the decision was taken last Thursday, German interior minister Nancy Faeser had already confirmed on Twitter that Ukrainian refugees would not need to go through a complicated asylum procedure.
The country’s direct neighboring states Poland, Slovakia, Hungary, Romania and Moldova have also announced plans to take in refugees from Ukraine. Poland, currently the primary destination for those fleeing the Russia-Ukraine war, assures refugees that they do not need to worry about their legal status when entering the country.
What’s more, in the light of the latest events, many countries have stated their willingness to welcome refugees from Ukraine and to waive visa requirements for Ukrainian citizens and residents fleeing war. For instance, the Republic of Ireland announced last Friday that refugees would not need a visa anymore to enter the country. The UK has also introduced temporary visa concessions.
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While many refugees are currently seeking shelter with family and friends in other Eastern European countries, others find themselves in desperate need for a place to stay. In order to accommodate refugees entering their territory, Ukraine’s neighboring countries have started to set up temporary accommodations along their borders.
Refugees coming to Poland can seek help in one of the 9 reception centers which have been established near the main border crossing points where they will receive food and shelter. In addition, cities and municipalities throughout the country are organizing free housing for those who seek refuge in Poland. The country has even promised to provide refugees with free health and medical care.
Help also comes from the locals in those countries who have started to mobilize on social networks such as Facebook to offer housing to war refugees from Ukraine. Further help is provided by international companies such as Airbnb and Arche Hotels who are working on providing free accommodation for refugees. Swiss authorities are also prepared to provide refugees with free accommodation. Refugees arriving in Ireland should check out the official online portal for accommodation and support.
Although the Russian invasion is mainly impacting the people in Ukraine, there also are many people in Russia who are intending to leave the country for fear of financial security, isolation and the possible declaration of martial law. The major problem they face is that Russian planes are currently banned from landing in over 33 countries, most of them destinations in Europe, and even from flying across those countries’ airspace.
However, it is possible to take alternative flight routes via the Middle East and Turkey - even though flight offerings within and out of the country are fairly limited and expensive at the moment. Alternatively, travelers coming from Russia can take the train to the Russian-Estonian border and enter the European Union by crossing the land border as described in this article published on Deutsche Welle. Another possible way of leaving Russia is via the country’s border with Finland which can be crossed both by car and by taking the express train from St. Petersburg to Helsinki.
Depending on their nationality, people leaving Russia may face additional hurdles such as visa requirements. As part of the sanction package against Russia, a number of countries have temporarily suspended visa options for Russian citizens, including several countries in the European Union.
Further, country-specific information can be found on the following websites.
Also, feel free to check our related blog post which tells you what companies can do now for their employees in Ukraine.
Slovakian government: Information for Ukrainians entering Slovak Republic
Website dedicated to refugees entering Slovakia: Ukraineslovakia.sk
Polish Ministry of the Interior and Administration: Information for refugees from Ukraine
Government portal: Help for Ukrainian citizens
Platform for Ukrainian refugees: Accommodation, food and news - European solidarity for Ukraine
UNHCR Romania: Help for refugees and asylum-seekers
Asylum – JRS Romania: Information for asylum seekers in Romania
UNHCR Hungary: Help for refugees and asylum-seekers
Information Leaflet for the Ukraine crisis also containing links to Facebook groups and official agencies offering help and support for Ukrainian refugees
Whether you have team members who are threatened by the dangers of war in Ukraine or just want to help those in need, you can make a donation to any of the following organizations.
If you need more information or further advice on supporting employees in a specific region, please feel free to contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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