GENEVA: The head of the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) expects another wave of hundreds of thousands of refugees from Ukraine in Europe over the winter because of "unliveable" conditions, he said on Monday (Dec 12).
Russia's attacks on Ukraine's electricity infrastructure have left millions of people without heat, clean water or electricity as temperatures plummet.
Moscow says the assaults do not target civilians and are meant to reduce Ukraine's ability to fight and push it to negotiate. Kyiv says the attacks are a war crime.
"Nobody knows how many, but there will be hundreds of thousands more (leaving Ukraine) as the horrific and unlawful bombing of civilian infrastructure makes life unliveable in too many places," Jan Egeland told Reuters by phone after returning from a trip to Ukraine earlier this month.
"So I fear that the crisis in Europe will deepen and that will overshadow equally crises in other places of the world," he said.
Around 18 million people or 40 per cent of Ukraine's population is dependent on aid, the United Nations says. Another 7.8 million have left the country for other parts of Europe.
A UN refugee agency (UNHCR) spokesperson told Reuters by email that data had "not yet pointed to any significant increase in border crossings" in recent weeks. However, some neighbouring countries such as Romania and Poland have reported small rises, she added.
Asked about contingency planning this winter, the UNHCR spokesperson said the agency was preparing for a range of possible scenarios including an increase in displacement within the country and an increase in refugees.
Polish President Andrzej Duda said on Monday that Poland and Germany should ask the European Union for more help in dealing with an expected increase in Ukrainian refugees.
Egeland said that some Ukrainian refugees who had returned to their country this summer were now "giving up" and heading the other way, he said.
The NRC works in 35 countries, providing emergency and long-term assistance including in Ukraine and neighbouring countries Romania, Moldova and Poland.