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Sensemaker: Exodus

Sensemaker: Exodus

What just happened

Long stories short

  • Pentagon sources said logistical problems may have caused a 40-mile column of Russian trucks and armour to stall en route to Kyiv. 
  • Eight East European heads of government signed a letter urging the EU to fast-track Ukrainian EU membership.
  • Google said Russian searches involving the word “emigration” quintupled last week. 

It’s freezing in Medyka, the busiest post on Poland’s border with Ukraine. Refugees are warming themselves around the smoking piles of rubbish. Volunteers are bringing them clothes and dishing out rice with dhal, helping them with the next leg of their journey. Paramedics carry away a woman who has just collapsed. 

There are no international organisations here; only Polish volunteers and officials. The welcome they are providing is a world away from the one some refugees got a few metres east, in Ukraine. The difference is especially clear to Africans, writes Paul Caruana-Galizia.

“Since the beginning of the war we have been eating octopuses and caviar for breakfast. It’s because I saved this jar for my mother’s birthday, but if there is no electricity then the caviar will spoil… Oh man, trust me, war is monstrous stress, from the first second.” Listen to Oleksandr and others today and every day in Invaded – Voicemails from Ukraine


In six days nearly a million Ukrainians have become refugees, almost all of them moving west as Russian armour crawls in from the east. Filippo Grandi, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, said yesterday that in 40 years working in refugee crises he had “rarely seen such an incredibly fast-rising exodus of people”. 

Echoes of the 1940s are hard to miss, and will grow louder if forecasts that up to 7 million Ukrainians will be forced from their homes by the war prove even vaguely accurate. 

By the numbers: 

  • 800,000 – refugees estimated to have left Ukraine since the invasion began, according to the UN. 
  • 160,000 – Ukrainians thought to be internally displaced. 
  • 100,000 – refugees who arrived in Poland on Monday alone.
  • -3C  – temperature last night in Medyka, one of the main checkpoints on the Polish border. 
  • 4 million – refugees the UN is expecting to leave Ukraine, most of them women and children, equivalent to 9 per cent of the country’s population or the whole of the Manchester and Birmingham metropolitan areas leaving the UK. 

Where else have refugees arrived?

Where else have refugees arrived?

  • 2,000 in Germany. 
  • 1,000 in Greece. 
  • 1,000-2,000 in Czech Republic. 
  • Bulgaria, Italy, Croatia, Slovenia, Netherlands, Estonia and Latvia have also accepted refugees.

Refugees are facing journeys of several days to get to the border points, and queues up to 15 km long on arrival. This morning the EU president, Ursula von der Leyen, said “all those fleeing Putin’s bombs are welcome in Europe”, but it’s not clear yet for how long or whether that includes non-Ukrainian nationals. A vote on a plan to grant three years’ grace before Ukrainians need apply for asylum is due tomorrow. In the meantime, border queues are backing up.

Approximate wait times: 

  • Romania – 20 hours 
  • Moldova – 24 hours
  • Poland – up to 60 hours

Simple geography means Poland is receiving the overwhelming majority of refugees. Its 500 km border is the obvious goal for most of those trying to get as far as they can as fast as they can from the eastern Russian border. 

A Telegram channel, ‘Travel to Poland’, has gained 38,000 members since being set up last week. It carries a near-constant stream of pleas for help and transport, mostly from grandparents, mothers and children, and of offers from (mainly) private Polish citizens. 

Poland’s welcome has so far been warm, but Grandi’s fear is that it may not last, especially if this turns out to be the start of a humanitarian crisis that lasts for years. The welcome mat so far, by country:

  • Poland – expects to take in at least a million refugees
  • Ireland – says it will take an “unlimited” number
  • Germany – “We will take in all Ukrainians fleeing”
  • Estonia – ready for up to 2,000
  • Bulgaria – ready for 2,000-4,0000
  • Lithuania – ready for 8,000
  • Croatia – ready for 3,500 now and up to 17,000 later
  • Slovenia – says it will take up to 200,000 eventually
  • UK – Boris Johnson has said more than 200,000 Ukrainians could be allowed to join family members. 

The EU’s plan under the Temporary Protection Directive would grant a blanket right for Ukrainians to stay and work throughout the 27 member states for up to three years. 

Poland’s UN Ambassador, Krzysztof Szczerski, said on Monday that reports of discrimination at the border were “a complete lie and a terrible insult to us”, but Paul Caruana-Galizia’s latest despatch tells a different story. 

Our planet environment, natural resources, geopolitics

Down underwater
A “one-in-a-one-thousand-year” flood has left much of New South Wales underwater, and Queensland has been drenched by 80 per cent of its average annual rainfall in three days. Ten people are confirmed dead and Sydney could still face torrential floods next week. Is this weather or climate? Presumably both, with a hefty dab of La Niña, the cyclical cooling of the central Pacific that pushes the jetstream north and wetter weather towards Asia. It’s interesting to note how state and national figures have talked about these floods. The one-in-a-thousand descriptor was from New South Wales’ premier, Dominic Perrottet. His Queensland counterpart called its floods a “rain bomb”. Scott Morrison, the prime minister, dialled it down to “a rather significant weather system”. Morrison seems to dislike talking up extreme weather events that could be linked to climate change.

Wealth investment, fairness, prosperitY

Burst pipedream
Nord Stream 2 cost $11 billion. It stretches 767 miles under the Baltic: a colossal feat of engineering that could have brought Germany enough energy to compensate for its decision to abandon nuclear power after the Fukushima disaster. Except now, it probably won’t. Germany’s chancellor has suspended certification. The US has sanctioned the company that built it and its ex-Stasi CEO. Now that company, Nord Stream 2 AG, seems to be going out of business. Yesterday it fired all 140 staff at its headquarters in Zug, near Zurich. Shell, which underwrote 10 per cent of its construction costs, pulled out as an investor and fellow investors from France, Germany and Austria will be under pressure to do likewise. Nothing symbolised Germany’s dependence on Russian gas like Nord Stream 2, and nothing shows more clearly how it needs to kick the habit. 

belonging identity, society, beliefs, countries

Not neutral any more
Switzerland has suspended its traditional neutrality to join the EU’s sanctions programme against Russia. Given Swiss neutrality survived World War 2, it’s hard to think of a more compelling piece of evidence that Putin has changed everything. The decision was “unique and difficult” but morally imperative, President Ignazio Cassis told a press conference in Bern. It means Switzerland will mirror EU asset freezes and travel bans, including on Putin himself, his foreign minister Sergei Lavrov and his prime minister Mikhail Mishustin. It also augurs ill for Nord Stream 2 AG, the Russian-owned company that built most of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline and is based in Zug, near Zurich. Hit hard by sanctions, the company laid off all its staff yesterday and is said to be talking to insolvency administrators.

New things technology, science, engineering

Mars mission delayed
The war seems to have scuppered or at least delayed a mission to Mars. The European Space Agency was planning to send a rover there next year, but probably won’t now, because it was going to launch from the Russia-administered Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan and use a Russian-built landing platform. Hitherto, as the NYT explains, space firms in Russia and the West have managed to compartmentalise and ignore earthly politics, but not any more. It’s been tense in the International Space Station since last week’s invasion (Russian cosmonauts control life support systems on the ISS), and the ESA says sanctions mean a 2022 launch is now “very unlikely”. SpaceX to the rescue, again? 

covid by numbers

61 – million doses of Covid vaccine Bangladesh has received from the US, making it the largest recipient of donations from the country.

The 100-year life health, education, living, public poliCY

Warmer = sicker
In case the geopolitical and climatological outlook wasn’t already bleak enough, this week’s IPCC report (see also yesterday’s Net Zero Sensemaker) says a warmer world will be an iller one. Global warming will extend the range of the mosquito and with it the footprint of dengue fever and the Chikungunya virus, which causes fever and joint pain. It is already helping coronaviruses to spread, and worsening the risk of heart and lung disease by making the world hotter and dustier. The Atlantic has the story. Think of it as a(nother) call to action. 

Thanks for reading. Please share this around and tell us what we’ve missed. News tips and story ideas are welcome. Email them to sensemaker@tortoisemedia.com.

Phoebe Davis

With additional reporting by Giles Whittell.

Photographs Getty Images

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