A second government-chartered flight of Ecuadorians fleeing the Russian invasion of Ukraine is scheduled to arrive in Quito Saturday morning. The flight, carrying 209 Ecuadorians, left Warsaw Friday night. The first humanitarian flight, with 246 aboard, landed Friday morning.
Ecuador Foreign Minister Juan Carlos Holguín says at least 300 more Ecuadorians remain in Poland and other Eastern European countries after crossing the border from Ukraine. “With the second humanitarian flight, we will repatriate 455 of our citizens but there are more waiting to come home as well as many more attempting to leave Ukraine,” he said. “We will arrange additional flights as they are needed.”
Holguín acknowledged that the government does have an accurate accounting of Ecuadorians who were living in Ukraine prior to the invasion, but believes it is more than 1,500. “We now realize that our earlier estimate of 700 to 800 is low. Officially, we had 750 registered with the consulate in Kiev but we believe there are several hundred more.”
According to Holguín, an unknown number of Ecuadorians plan to remain in Ukraine, despite the war.
He said the majority of Ecuadorians in Ukraine were university students. “According to the United Nations, Ecuador has the second most students studying in Ukraine of all South American countries.”
Holguín said he regretted that the humanitarian flights were unable to accommodate the large number of pets that Ecuadorians brought with them to Poland. The charter airlines reported that 86 refugees asked to bring dogs, cats and ferrets with them but they could only accommodate 32. By social media, families said that several Ecuadorians refused to leave without their pets and decided to remain in Poland temporarily.
In total, it is believed that more than 2,000 South Americans have returned home, or are awaiting flights, in Poland and four other countries bordering Ukraine. A Red Cross official in Warsaw said that hundreds are crowded into waiting areas near the airports.
Ecuadorians arriving from Poland describe the difficult, sometimes dangerous journey out of Ukraine. “The buses and trains were full, with many people standing, and many of us had to walk for many kilometers,” said Carlos Torres, a medical student studying in Kiev. “It was very cold and we had to leave most of our possessions behind. We could hear explosions as we left Ukraine and we worried about thieves along the way.”
He added: “Even after we arrived in Poland, some of the border police demanded money and wouldn’t return our passports until we paid.”
Family members of the returning refugees said the experience has been extremely emotional. “It has been very, very hard on all of us,” said Mercedes Sanchez, whose 18-year-old son Jorge Criollo arrived back in Quito Friday after traveling through several Ukrainian cities that he said were under fire from Russian troops, crossing into Slovakia and later into Budapest. “My greatest fear was that he would die there,” she said. “I am so happy that he is finally home.”