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PRZEMYSL, (Poland): Eastern Europe braced for a surge of refugees from shelled towns and cities in Ukraine on Thursday as fighting following Russia’s invasion intensified and the United Nations said more than 2.3 million people had now fled the country.

Ukraine had hoped to start evacuating civilians through seven “humanitarian corridors” on Thursday, a day after it said a children’s hospital was hit in a Russian air strike on the southern port city of Mariupol, where thousands are pinned down without access to water, medicine or food.

But Ukraine’s foreign minister said Moscow had refused during talks on Thursday to guarantee humanitarian access to rescue civilians trapped under bombardment.

Both sides have blamed the other for the failure of previous evacuation attempts. Russia has dismissed the bombing of the hospital as “fake news”. The regional governor said 17 people were wounded.

“We’ve only seen the beginning, unfortunately, and I think there will be many millions more,” European Union Home Affairs Commissioner Ylva Johansson told Swedish radio.

Valera, a carpenter in his 50s and one of the few men to enter from Ukraine where those of conscription age are generally obliged to stay, watched nervously as his daughter Anna was carried on a stretcher at a crossing point into Poland.

It was two days since they left Ukraine’s second largest city Kharkiv, where Anna, 24, who has cerebral palsy, broke her leg as they rushed to a bomb shelter.

“There is positional fighting during the day, air raids in the evenings, they are shelling from everything, fighter aircraft,” he said, declining to give his full name. “The centre (of

Kharkiv) is ruined, the outskirts have already been bombed.”

He and Anna are headed for Dresden, Germany, where another daughter is waiting.

Authorities and volunteers across central and eastern Europe have spent the past two weeks scrambling to provide food, accommodation and medical aid to the many thousands of refugees pouring across their borders.

“We’re getting ready for refugees from the war zones,” said Witold Wolczyk from the mayor’s office in Przemysl, a town just west of Poland’s Medyka border crossing, which has become a major transit hub for refugees.

“We have psychologists on the spot. They have not been that busy so far. If it turns out we need more professionals to help traumatised people, we will look for them.”

During a visit to Medyka, International Organization for Migration Director-General Antonio Vitorino called for humanitarian corridors to be established and guaranteed by both Russia and Ukraine.

“…Not just evacuating people who want to leave the cities that are under attack, but also to be able to provide food, non-food items, water, to those who are willing to stay in those cities,” he said.

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