Nearly Half of Ukraine's 2 Million Refugees Are Children, U.N. Says

More than 2 million people have fled Ukraine since Russia launched its invasion against the country, including 1 million children, amid a growing refugee crisis that could affect millions more.

The United Nations refugee agency said a large number of the children crossing the border are unaccompanied or have been separated from their families. The agency said on Monday it was focusing on protecting child refugees who are at a heightened risk of violence, abuse and exploitation.

It's been nearly two weeks since Russia's President Vladimir Putin ordered the military assault on Ukraine. Children have been particularly affected by the war, as missile strikes have damaged schools, maternity hospitals and residential areas. Dozens of children have already been killed, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said.

"The scariest figure was the 50 Ukrainian children killed in 13 days of war. But then in an hour it became 52 children. I will never forgive this. And I know that you will never forgive the occupiers," Zelensky said in his address Tuesday to the British Parliament.

In one case, a family, including two children, died after trying to flee Russian shelling in Irpin, a suburb of Kyiv. Photos show some of the bodies covered in sheets following the blast on Sunday, the New York Post reported.

"They were just trying to get out of town. To escape. The whole family. How many such families have died in Ukraine?" Zelensky said in a Ukrainian broadcast on Sunday. "We will not forgive. We will not forget. We will punish everyone who committed atrocities in this war."

For those who do manage to make it out of Ukraine safely, the U.N. refugee agency said, countries should offer a safe space for children and families immediately following a border crossing. Also, these sites should be linked to national child protection systems.

The U.N. estimates nearly 4 million refugees could flee the conflict in Ukraine. Two million have already left in just less than two weeks, with 1.2 million people entering Poland alone. Others are seeking safety mainly in Ukraine's western-border countries, such as Hungary, with 203,000 refugees; Slovakia, 153,000; and Romania, 85,000.

Another 83,000 refugees have fled to Moldova, a country with a population of approximately 2.6 million. Moldova's prime minister, Natalia Gavrilița, told CNN on Sunday that one in every eight children in her country is a refugee.

A significant number of refugees have fled to Russia, 99,000, with a small number heading to Belarus, 600. Another 235,745 refugees have fled to "other European countries," according to U.N. data.

In addition to children, women make up the majority of refugees since Zelensky initiated martial law in Ukraine, which forbids men ages 18 to 60 from crossing the border.

Update 03/09/22, 10:44 a.m. ET: This story was updated with additional information and background.

Children Nearly Half of Ukraine Refugees
Children represent around half of the more than 2 million people that have fled the war in Ukraine. Above, Ukrainian women and children after crossing the Slovak-Ukrainian border on February 25. Peter Lazar/AFP/Getty Images