Italy begins welcoming refugees from Ukraine

Protests against Russian invasion of Ukraine held in Rome and Milan.

The first buses of Ukrainian refugees fleeing the Russian invasion of their country arrived in northern Italy over the weekend, as Europe braces for a major humanitarian crisis.

A bus with a Ukrainian licence plate carrying around 50 people, almost all women and children, crossed the Italian border at Fernetti, near Trieste, in the early hours of Sunday morning.

Women on board the bus told Italian news agency ANSA that their husbands had stayed behind to fight the invading Russian forces.

After crossing into Italy, the passengers made their way to the homes of friends or family, mainly in northern cities but also in Rome.

Another bus carrying about 40 refugees from Ukraine, including a nine-month-old baby, arrived in Piacenza at the weekend, according to the newspaper Libertà.

Janez Lenarcic, the European Commissioner for Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Management said on Sunday that Europe faces its biggest humanitarian crisis in "many, many years", estimating that the number of Ukrainians internally displaced by the conflict could reach more than seven million.

Meanwhile the last direct flight from Russia landed at Fiumicino airport just after midday on Sunday, coinciding with the government's decision to close airspace to Russian planes.

About 60 people were on board, reports ANSA, including some Italians and Russian citizens, mostly living in Italy.

Demonstrations against Russia's invasion of Ukraine were held over the weekend in Rome and Milan, amid calls for peace and chants of "Putin assassino".

Milan mayor Beppe Sala said his city "will do its part to give support to those fleeing the war."

On Sunday the EU announced that plans are afoot for Ukrainian refugees to be welcomed into member countries for three years without applying for asylum, the BBC reported.

Speaking on the popular Italian talk show Che tempo che fa last night, Italy's foreign minister Luigi Di Maio said: "This war has a name and a surname: Vladimir Putin", adding: "Ukraine is Europe, the young people of Kyiv are like the young people of Paris, of Berlin, of Rome."

Photo RAI News