As Russia's war in Ukraine enters into its third month, increasing numbers of war refugees from Ukraine are arriving in Estonia via Russia. These arrivals account for one third of all refugees entering Estonia, and the majority of them are in transit to points elsewhere.
Most of the refugees arriving via Russia are residents of the occupied Donbas region who were unable to flee via Ukraine itself. The majority of them don't intend to remain in Estonia, but nonetheless need time to catch their breath as well as directing.
Two coach buses stood side by side at Tallinn Bus Station on Monday —a bus to Warsaw filled mostly with refugees from Ukraine who had reached Estonia via Russia, and a bus from St. Petersburg bringing even more such refugees to Tallinn.
Baltic Shuttle bus driver Dmitri said that some 20-30 refugees are arriving per trip.
Of the 33,000 refugees from Ukraine that have arrived in Estonia thus far, 10,000 have arrived in the country via Russia. One such family from Donetsk Oblast arrived in Tallinn early Monday morning after a three-day journey through Russia. They traveled together with a couple dozen other refugees. Like most others coming in via Russia, they do not intend to remain in Estonia either.
"We have a small child," Yuriy Radin said. "The girl is four years old. We're tired — we've been on the road for three days. If we could catch our breath for a couple of days, then we could get our strength back up. We're pretty exhausted — both morally and physically."
Tallinn Bus Station has hired Kherson native Olga to help war refugees find answers to their questions. In Kherson, Olga had been working for a company that sold office equipment; now she was working as the central bus station's refugee support administrator.
"You have to understand what a person needs," she said. "Do they want to stay here? People are often scared, and aren't capable of expressing themselves clearly. They need to be helped, and you have to understand what you need to do with them."
According to Police and Border Guard Board (PPA) data, as the war in Ukraine drags on, the number of refugees arriving via Russia has begun to grow. The number and route of incoming war refugees varies depending on the course of the war in Ukraine.
"While the main direction in the early days of the war was via Latvia to Estonia or on from here to Finland, i.e. crossing internal EU borders, we've now been seeing that bigger numbers of people are arriving by crossing the EU's external border," said Egert Belitšev, deputy director general for border management at the PPA.
"If we're talking first and foremost about crossing the eastern border, then we do indeed have ideas here," said Mari Tikerpuu, head of the social protection group at the joint Emergency Headquarters. "That people don't have to go via Tallinn or other cities — it should be possible to send people directly elsewhere from the border checkpoint as well, such as to Warsaw. But we don't have any concrete agreements on this front yet."
Editor: Aili Vahtla