Russian millionaires and the Ukrainian population are on the move. Not for the same reasons. At least four yachts owned by Russian billionaires have set a course to Montenegro or the Maldives, according to Marine Traffic data reviewed by CNBC. This is a result of the sanctions imposed on Russia by Western governments, which pledged to “hunt down and seize” the possessions of Russian billionaires, including their mansions, yachts, and other property purchased using shady transactions to launder illegally obtained money.
“I don’t regret anything I’ve done, and I would do it again,” said a 55-year-old Ukrainian mechanic who appeared in Spanish court after trying to sink a yacht that belonged to his boss, an executive at a Russian weapons company, reported the daily newsletter The Brew on March 1. “The conflict is forcing Western countries to reckon with their history as a haven for Russian dirty money. London even earned the nickname ‘Londongrad’ for being a safe place for Russian billionaires to park their laundered riches,” The Brew said.
While Russian billionaires are scrambling to save their cherished possessions, some 660,000 refugees have fled Ukraine to neighboring countries between the start of the invasion and March 1, according to government data compiled by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). The U.N. refugee agency says that, at this rate, the situation looks set to become Europe’s largest refugee crisis this century, and UNHCR is mobilizing resources to respond as quickly and effectively as possible. UNHCR has a long-standing presence in the region, including in Poland, Hungary, Moldova, Slovakia, and Romania, and is coordinating the refugee response with other U.N. agencies and nongovernmental organizations partners, in support of national authorities.
According to several media outlets, most Ukrainians have fled to Poland, Hungary, Moldova, Romania, and Slovakia, while others have moved toward other European countries. Below is a brief description provided by UNHCR in reference to the situation as of March 1, involving the countries that received the most Ukrainians so far.
UNHCR field staff report miles of lines at the border on the Ukrainian side. Those who crossed the border said they had been waiting up to 60 hours. Most arrivals are women and children from all parts of Ukraine. Temperatures are freezing and many have reported spending days on the road waiting to cross.
UNHCR is present at the border, assessing the number of refugees, and is ready to scale up its operational support to the government. Arrivals are steady and waiting times vary. Support is being provided by municipality humanitarian actors, and members of the community.
There are lines of up to 20 hours to enter Romania. National authorities are managing accommodation and transport — new arrivals are being moved from the border to reception centers or other locations. Local communities are generously helping with transport and accommodation, while private companies are paying for hotels. Volunteers are providing interpretation services and other forms of practical support.
It is still taking 24 hours to cover the almost 40 miles between Odessa and the border with Moldova. New arrivals are being accommodated in temporary reception centers and additional sites are being identified. Some have found their own accommodations or are being hosted by local communities.
Since February 24, UNHCR has regularly visited four out of five main border crossing points. Arrivals to Slovakia are lower but the government is maintaining an open and welcoming policy toward refugees and has rapidly changed asylum laws to help fast-track asylum procedures.
UNHCR is also ramping up its response in Ukraine to help displaced and conflict-affected people. But the volatile situation, security concerns, lack of safe access for humanitarian workers, and movement restrictions are posing major challenges for aid workers, including UNHCR staff.