KYIV — Many Armenians are desperate to flee Ukraine in the face of Russia’s continuing military assault, a leader of the local Armenian community said on Monday.
Norik Grigoryan, the head of the Kyiv branch of the Union of Armenians of Ukraine, confirmed that getting out of the country is becoming increasingly difficult and dangerous. Neither he nor the Armenian Foreign Ministry could say how many Armenians have taken refuge in neighboring states or in Armenia.
The ministry announced on Saturday that Armenian nationals do not need Schengen visas to enter Ukraine’s European Union neighbors: Poland, Slovakia, Hungary and Romania. It also said Armenia is ready to receive them and is now exploring “other options for evacuating them.”
“We are advising everyone to stay put until things stabilize because traveling is now harder than staying,” Grigoryan told RFE/RL’s Armenian Service from Kyiv. “At the same time, we try to escort those people who decide to get out.”
“On the way to the [western Ukrainian] cities of Vinnitsa, Khmelnitsky and Ternopol we provide them with accommodation for one night so that they can keep moving towards the border in the morning, after the curfew,” he said.
Estimates of the number of ethnic Armenians who lived in Ukraine before the Russian invasion vary from 100,000 to 400,000. Only half of them are said to hold Ukrainian passports.
Some Armenians live in the breakaway Donetsk and Luhansk regions run by pro-Russian regimes.
According to Father Narek, an Armenian priest based there, up to 100 local Armenian families have fled to neighboring Russia over the past week. “Their men came back because their departure is strictly prohibited [due to a general mobilization,]” he said by phone.
Many others, he said, also remain in the two self-proclaimed republics involved in the Russian offensive. “People stay in their homes. They run to bomb shelters when air raid sirens go off,” added the clergyman.