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.
How to leave Ukraine?
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.
Leaving Ukraine by car
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.
Leaving Ukraine by bus or train
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.
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.
Visa requirements for Ukrainians fleeing war
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.
Where to find accommodation after crossing the border?
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.
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.