Ukrainians Returning From Poland as Russian Advance Stalls

For the first time since Russia's invasion of Ukraine began, people leaving Poland and returning to Ukraine are outnumbering those fleeing the war-torn country, official data show.

According to Poland's Border Guard, approximately 19,300 people left Poland for Ukraine on Sunday, while 17,300 people fled Ukraine and crossed the Polish border on the same day—a decrease of 10 percent compared to the previous day.

A day earlier, on April 16, some 22,000 people entered Ukraine while 19,200 left the country, the Polish border service said.

Since Russian President Vladimir Putin's war against Ukraine began on February 24, some 4.9 million Ukrainians have fled for neighboring countries, with more than half of refugees entering Poland, according to the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR).

The declining number of Ukrainians leaving the country suggests that Europe's largest refugee crisis since World War II is dwindling, at least for now. The Pew Research Center, a nonpartisan American think tank, said on March 25 that Putin's invasion had created "one of the biggest refugee crises of modern times."

The UNHCR estimates that roughly 2.6 million people fled to Poland, more than 686,000 to Romania, and more than 400,000 each to Hungary and the Republic of Moldova.

The latest figures come just days after Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky outlined in an interview with CBS' 60 Minutes what a victory for Kyiv would look like following Russia's invasion.

The Ukrainian leader said a victory for Ukraine would see the return of Ukrainians who fled the country.

"They [Ukrainians] will come back," he said. "The return of refugees is blood for the body of Ukraine. Without them, there's nothing."

It also comes as Russia's advance in the country continues to stall. Russian forces continue to meet stiff Ukrainian resistance in their bid to capture Mariupol, a strategic port city on the Azov Sea that would provide a land corridor to Crimea, which the Kremlin annexed from Ukraine in in 2014.

Mathieu Boulègue, a research fellow at Chatham House's Russia and Eurasia Programme, told Newsweek late March that he anticipated Mariupol to fall to Russian forces within weeks.

Mariupol is an "easy target" for Russia to "show a victory," he said.

The UK's Defence Ministry said in an intelligence update on Monday however that "concerted Ukrainian resistance" has severely tested Russian forces and diverted men and material, slowing Russia's advance elsewhere.

Ukrainian fighters on Sunday ignored a surrender-or-die demand from Russia, as they continued to push back Russian forces from capturing the besieged city.

Zelensky on Sunday repeated that Ukraine will not surrender any of its territories in order to bring the war to an end.

Newsweek contacted Russian authorities for comment.

Ukraine refugee crisis
A girl looks out from a window as she waits inside a train taking refugees to Poland at Lviv train station, western Ukraine, on March 5, 2022. On April 16, some 22,000 people entered Ukraine while 19,200 left the country, the Polish border service said. DANIEL LEAL/AFP/Getty Images