Desperate Ukrainians fleeing the war became so crushed at the border with Poland that several people fainted and one woman is believed to have died, a British man has said.
Jeremy Myers became caught up in the crush with his Ukrainian girlfriend as people queued for 25 hours, with temperatures plummeting to minus four degrees at night, to escape bombs in the war-torn country.
Mancunian Jeremy, 44, described the ‘crush’ as ‘beyond unsafe’ and said one person was rumoured to have died in the ‘pandemonium’.
‘It was absolute pandemonium,’ says business consultant Jeremy, speaking safely from Poland.
‘There was very little organisation and the closer you got to the front, the more people were pushing and shoving.
In other developments:
- Authorities in Kyiv have extended a curfew until early on Monday;
- Britain’s defence ministry said on Saturday the bulk of Russian forces involved in the advance on Kyiv were now 19 miles from the city centre.
- Russian troops captured the southeastern Ukrainian city of Melitopol, Russia’s defence ministry claimed;
- UK armed forces minister James Heappey said Britain did not believe Russian forces had captured Melitopol;
- Refugees fleeing Ukraine continued to pour across its western borders on Saturday, with around 100,000 reaching Poland in two days;
- A decision to cut Russia off from the global SWIFT payment system will be taken in a matter of days, the governor of a central bank within the euro zone said;
- At least 2019 Ukrainians, including three children, have been killed as a result of the Russian invasion;
- France has decided to send defensive military equipment to Ukraine to support the country against Russia’s invasion;
- French sea police seized a ship on Saturday that authorities suspect belongs to a Russian company targeted by European Union sanctions over the war in Ukraine, a government official claimed;
- Putin urged the Ukrainian military to overthrow the country’s leadership and negotiate peace;
- Russia vetoed a draft UN Security Council resolution that would have deplored Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine, while China abstained from the vote.
Mancunian Jeremy Myers became caught up in a ‘crush’ at the Polish border with his Ukrainian girlfriend as people queued for 25 hours to escape bombs in the war-torn country
Jeremy had flown to Ukraine to spend Valentine’s Day with his girlfriend of two years, Maria Romanenko (both pictured), 29, a journalist and anti-Putin activist
The couple joined huge convoys at the small border crossing of Shehyni. Jeremy described the tight crowds (pictured) at the border as ‘pandemonium’ and ‘unsafe’
‘Every so often there would be these big surges and people would be screaming.
‘There were lots of young children and it felt very dangerous. Terrifying.
‘Fights broke out as people accused others of pushing in or of hurting them. People had blood running down their faces. We saw a couple of women fainting and being carried above the crowd.
‘And there was a strong rumour that someone had been crushed to death – the Polish border guards confirmed they had heard it was true.
‘It was beyond unsafe. I have got bruises on me from all the pushing and I am just pleased that we finally managed to make it to Poland.’
Jeremy had flown to Ukraine to spend Valentine’s Day with his girlfriend of two years, Maria Romanenko, 29, a journalist and anti-Putin activist.
Jeremy said there was a ‘strong’ rumour that one woman had died in the crush. Pictured: The ‘pen’ where the crush was tightest
Maria (pictured), who is a well-known Putin critic, reluctantly agreed to leave the country. A few weeks ago, a photo of her wearing a bracelet which said ‘f**k Putin’ went viral in Ukraine
Ukrainian women with children are helped to carry their bags by a Polish border guard as Ukrainian refugees cross the border from Ukraine to Poland at the Korczowa-Krakovets border crossing on Saturday
A woman cries as she embraces a child at the Medyka border crossing between Poland and Ukraine, as Polish Border Guards close lanes for vehicles to allow more pedestrian traffic
Her Kyiv-based family were convinced that Putin would not invade and that it was safe for the pair to stay in the country.
But on Thursday morning, they woke up to the news that the invasion had started.
Maria, who is a well-known Putin critic, reluctantly agreed to leave the country.
A few weeks ago, a photo of her wearing a bracelet which said ‘f**k Putin’ went viral in Ukraine – and she could be liable for arrest if the Russian army reached Kyiv.
A friend agreed to drive the couple to the border, where they joined huge convoys making the journey from Kyiv to the small border crossing of Shehyni.
Policemen were turning back cars ten miles from the border to ensure men under 60, who have been called up to defend the country, didn’t try and escape.
But when the policemen saw Jeremy’s passport, they waved him through saying: ‘After what the English have done to help us, we will let you through.’
Ukrainians fleeing their country after the Russian invasion ordered by Vladimir Putin arrive at the Polish-Ukrainian border crossing in Medyka in south-eastern Poland
Ukrainian families are seen at the border with Poland in Medyka as thousands of citizens are fleeing the war-torn country after Russia announced an invasion this week
People wait for their friends and relatives at the Medyka border crossing between Poland and Ukraine, as Polish Border Guards close lanes for vehicles to allow more pedestrian traffic
A man embraces a boy as people arrive at the Medyka border crossing between Poland and Ukraine on Saturday
Crowds of people were seen waiting at the Polish-Ukrainian border crossing in Medyka in south-eastern Poland on Saturday, where they were offered help by authorities
Jeremy said there was a festive atmosphere when they first reached the small village of Shehyni. But that quickly dissipated once people realised how slow the queue was moving.
‘There were probably about 2,000 people queuing in the first bit,’ he said.
‘It was mainly women and children with some older people. There were also a few overseas students.
‘After that initial queue we headed towards a rectangle space, which also had thousands of people, and then into a smaller cage-like pen. At each stage people were getting closer and closer together.
‘No one was keeping any order. There were just a couple of soldiers with guns and when anyone went up to them and asked if they could organise the people they just glared back really menacingly.
‘At certain times a chant would go up that they needed to set up a separate queue – a corridor for women with young children – but that was ignored.
‘People were trying to help each other if they could, but everyone was in the same miserable position.
‘The scariest part was when we got close to the booths – we’d been standing up for about 12 hours by then – as that’s when it really felt like we were in a dangerous crush.
‘There were only three people working in the booths – they were meant to be processing people before they reached passport control – and it was painstakingly slow.
A woman wept as she embraced two children at the Medyka border crossing, connecting Ukraine and Poland, on Saturday
Mothers with young children were assisted by Polish border police at the Medyka border crossing on Saturday
Policemen were turning back cars ten miles from the border to ensure men under 60, who have been called up to defend the country, didn’t try and escape. Pictured: People at the Medyka border crossing on Saturday
People embrace each other as they arrive at the Medyka border crossing between Poland and Ukraine, as Polish Border Guards close lanes for vehicles to allow more pedestrian traffic
‘There were no toilets and no place to get food or even water. There wasn’t even space to sit down so people had no choice but to stand for hours on end even though they were exhausted.’
Once they had got through the first queue, they were then faced with a second one for passport control, which took another 12 hours.
Once they were through that, the Polish border was a completely different experience.
‘It was fully manned and we got through there quickly,’ says Jeremy.
‘Once we were through, there were hundreds of volunteers who gave us food and drink and even clothes.
‘People were standing there with signs offering to take people wherever they wanted to go for free.
‘Some people drove us two and a half hours to Krakow where we have friends and refused any payment.’
Jeremy intends to return home to the UK once Maria, a former student at the University of Leeds, gets a visa which will enable her to join him.
‘I feel physically and emotionally wrecked,’ said Jeremy. ‘But I am pleased to be in a place of safety.’