March 5, 2022, 5:59 a.m. ET

Credit…Laetitia Vancon for the New York Times

CHISINAU, Moldova — Russia’s war in Ukraine has caused the fastest flow of refugees into Europe since the end of World War II, the head of the United Nations refugee agency said on Saturday.

In the 10 days since the start of the war, at least 1.2 million people in Ukraine have fled to neighboring countries. This movement, mostly of women and children, is happening at a faster pace than the displacement of people at the height of the Balkan Wars in the 1990s, and far faster than that of the Hungarian refugee crisis of 1956. said Filippo Grandi of the UN. High Commissioner for Refugees.

“This is the fastest growing refugee crisis – let’s call it a refugee crisis, please, it’s a refugee crisis – since World War II,” Grandi said. in an interview.

“The Balkans have displaced millions of people, but over a very long period of time,” Grandi added. “It lasted six or seven years.”

Mr. Grandi had just returned from a visit to the Ukraine-Moldova border and said he was particularly struck by the suddenness with which refugees crossing there had been torn from ordinary, comfortable lives in what was until recently quiet and functional. cities.

“It’s an avalanche of people with cars, with pets,” Grandi said. “These are entire towns emptying out and crossing the border. It is very specific, very particular. It will come with its own needs and specificities.

Poland has taken in the largest number of Ukrainians, but Grandi was particularly concerned about Moldova, which has taken in more refugees per capita than any of Ukraine’s other neighbours. Since February 24, more than 200,000 people from Ukraine have entered Moldova, which officially has 2.6 million inhabitants and is one of the poorest countries in Europe.

Unlike its western neighbours, Moldova is not a member of the European Union and therefore lacks significant institutional support from the bloc.

Grandi said Moldova and its neighbors would need deep help to integrate newcomers into their education, health and social service systems, a process that will inevitably strain social consensus in these country.

But he said he had been encouraged by the speed with which European countries had responded to the crisis – which he hoped signaled a paradigm shift in the way European governments approached refugees.

On Thursday, the 27 members of the European Union unanimously agreed to automatically grant Ukrainian refugees the right to live and work in the bloc for up to three years.

It was an unprecedented collective act of welcome during the 2015 refugee crisis, when more than a million refugees, mostly from Syria and Afghanistan, sought safety in Europe.

“I hope this is a good lesson that Europe will then agree to apply to other people coming to take refuge on the continent,” Mr Grandi said.

If there was a silver lining to the Ukrainian refugee crisis, “it is that Europe has now understood that anyone can become a refugee,” Grandi said. “Anyone can become a country hit by a wave of refugees.”