With the war in Ukraine approaching eight weeks, more than 5 million people have fled the country since Russian troops invaded on Feb. 24, the U.N. refugee agency reported Wednesday.
When the number reached 4 million on March 30, the exodus exceeded the worst-case predictions of the Geneva-based U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees.
The even bigger milestone in Europe’s biggest refugee crisis since World War II was reached as Russia unleashed a full-scale offensive in eastern Ukraine that will disrupt and end more lives.
Ukraine had a pre-war population of 44 million, and UNHCR says the conflict has displaced more than 7 million people within Ukraine along with the 5.03 million who had left as of Wednesday. According to the agency, 13 million people are believed to be trapped in the war-affected areas of Ukraine.
More than half of the refugees, over 2.8 million, fled at least at first to Poland. They are eligible for national ID numbers that entitle them to work, to free health care, schooling and bonuses for families with children.
Farther south, Hungary has emerged as a major transit point for Ukrainian refugees. Out of more than 465,000 who arrived, some 16,400 have applied for protected status, meaning they want to stay. Many are members of the ethnic Hungarian minority in Ukraine.
Hungary’s government says it has provided around $8.7 million to several charitable organizations and is giving subsidies to companies that employ Ukrainians granted asylum.
In March, a non-governmental organization, Migration Aid, rented an entire five-story building in Budapest, a former workers' hostel, to provide temporary accommodation for people escaping the war in Ukraine. It has helped some 4,000 refugees so far.
Neighboring Romania has received over 750,000 refugees from Ukraine so far.
The European nations hosting refugees say they need international help to manage the challenge, especially now as Russia has intensified attacks in Ukraine's eastern Donbas region.
Data from Poland shows that some 738,000 people have crossed back into Ukraine during the war. Some of them shuttle back and forth to do shopping in Poland, while others return to Ukraine to check on relatives and property, electing to either stay or depart again depending on what they find.
More than half of the refugees from Ukraine are children, according to UNHCR. Thousands of civilians, including children, have been killed or wounded in shelling and air strikes.
Additional reporting by The Associated Press.