PRAGUE/PRZEMYSL — Czech Prime Minister Petr Fiala said on Saturday his country would take care of the “wives and children” fleeing Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which has driven about 3 million Ukrainians to seek refuge in the EU’s eastern flank.
Fiala, who traveled to Kyiv earlier this week with his Polish and Slovenian counterparts to meet Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, added that the Czech Republic could cope with further refugee arrivals from Ukraine.
With men of conscription age prevented from leaving Ukraine, mostly women and children have crossed into the European Union at border points in Poland, Slovakia, Hungary and Romania.
“I have informed Ukrainian friends that we will take care of their wives and children,” Fiala said on Twitter.
“The speed and size of the refugee wave is incomparable with past waves but the Czech Republic can (handle) it.”
Echoing the concerns of other leaders in the region, Fiala said countries receiving large numbers of refugees should receive EU financial support but voiced opposition to quotas.
“We do not want the EU to introduce quotas but to have financial solidarity with the countries most affected by the refugee wave,” he said.
Poland, which shares a roughly 500-kilometer (310-mile) border with Ukraine, has accounted for more than 2 million of the refugee arrivals.
The deputy mayor of Przemysl, a town near Poland’s busiest crossing with Ukraine, said the flow of refugees has eased, but cautioned that further Russian military attacks in western Ukraine could change the situation quickly.
“Most of the people who left eastern Ukraine are now in western Ukraine waiting for further developments,” Deputy Mayor Boguslaw Swiezy said.
“Any nervousness occurring in western Ukraine will result in an increase in the stream of people coming to Poland,” Swiezy added.
While Russian forces have taken heavy losses and their advance has largely stalled, they have laid siege to cities and in recent days intensified missile attacks on scattered targets in western Ukraine, away from the main battlefields in the north and east.
In Przemysl, Ukrainian refugee Olga Pavlovska said she hoped Zelenskiy’s calls on Saturday for comprehensive peace talks with Moscow would bring an end to the Russian invasion, allowing her to return.
“I’ll go (to Germany) for three weeks but I hope I can go home after that,” said Pavlovska, 28, who fled the central Ukrainian city of Kryvyi Rih with her two young sons.
Western sanctions aimed at crippling Russia’s economy have yet to halt what Russian President Vladimir Putin calls a “special operation” to disarm and “de-Nazify” its neighbor.
The attacks in western Ukraine led Tetiana Huseva, 62, to flee with her daughter and grand-daughter this week. Her husband, who is too old to be conscripted, chose to stay behind and continue in his job at a local utility.
“My husband is a senior citizen, but he refused to leave,” Huseva told Reuters at Przemysl’s train station. “He said he needed to work.”
The family initially stayed in the western Ukrainian city of Lviv, but decided to leave the country on Friday when they heard a rocket flying above them, she said.
Volunteers across the region have rushed to transport, house and feed refugees, but aid workers fear a second wave of arrivals could stretch host countries to the limit.
Hungarian aid worker Attila Vandor said his organization had been busy ferrying new arrivals to relatives in places including Prague, Berlin and Italy, while preparing for a renewed influx should the fighting move further west.
“Right now there’s an unsettling calm before the storm,” said Vandor, a deputy group leader at the Hungarian Charity Service of the Order of Malta. “All of our capacities and staff are on standby if we need to respond.” (Additional reporting by Alicja Ptak in Warsaw and Gergely Szakacs in Budapest Writing by Michael Kahn Editing by Helen Popper)