Refugee Council wraps up scheduled evacuation buses from Ukrainian border

An Estonian Refugee Council-chartered bus transporting refugees from Ukraine to Estonia.
An Estonian Refugee Council-chartered bus transporting refugees from Ukraine to Estonia. Source: Ken Mürk/ERR

The Estonian Refugee Council (ERC) on Thursday dispatched its final regularly scheduled evacuation buses to Estonia for refugees from Ukraine. Since February 25, the NGO had coordinated a total of 182 bus trips, evacuating more than 8,000 war refugees as well as their accompanying pets from Medyka, Warsaw, Hrebenne and Slovakia.

"We have operated buses for more than a month with the help of donations," the ERC said in an announcement on Wednesday. "We began need-based evacuations from Medyka on February 25, when it was complete chaos at the [Polish-Ukrainian] border and there was little or no chance of reaching bigger cities. At our peak, we were dispatching 12 buses a day; by now, this need has diminished to three buses from Warsaw a day."

According to the NGO, the Polish state is now organizing the transport of refugees from border checkpoints to Warsaw, from where it is possible to travel to Estonia by commercial bus, including those operated by LuxExpress, Ecolines and Flixbus. The Refugee Council is, however, prepared to begin operating its own evacuation buses again should the alternative systems currently in place break down.

In an overview of their evacuation bus operations published on Friday, the ERC reported that they had spent €535,000 on dispatching a total of 182 buses from Medyka (72 buses), Warsaw (109 buses), Hrebenne (1 bus) and Slovakia (1 bus), with which they evacuated more than 8,000 refugees — nearly 40 percent of whom were children — to Estonia.

The council noted that the majority of refugees they evacuated had friends or family waiting for them in Estonia.

A total of 82 volunteers put in a combined 7,700 hours of work into the operation, serving as drivers, bus coordinators, call center staff, managerial roles and night guards, among other roles. At the peak of operations, nearly 40 volunteers were working for ERC at once.

115 people served as chaperones on a total of 152 evacuation bus trips, one of whom chaperoned four trips and four of whom chaperoned three. Each bus also had two drivers, two of whom drove on five trips and one of whom drove on four. The trip from Tallinn to Medyka is nearly 1,400 kilometers long, and the trip takes approximately 15-20 hours one way.

The Estonian Refugee Council provides a more detailed overview of their evacuation bus mission here (link in Estonian).

According to Police and Border Guard Board (PPA) data, as of March 31, Estonia had received more than 25,720 refugees from Ukraine since February 27.


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Editor: Aili Vahtla

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