MOSCOW: Thousands of Ukrainians are flooding across the border into Russia to escape the armed conflict, Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev said Thursday.
Speaking a day after Ukraine denied a mass exodus, Medvedev said several thousand Ukrainians had applied for refugee status -- even though Ukrainian nationals have the automatic right to stay three months in Russia.
"A stream of people is heading into the (southern Russian) Rostov region and partly into other regions. It's mainly children and the people accompanying them. Their numbers are in the thousands," Medvedev said at a televised government meeting.
"Before it was only a handful (asking for refugee status), now the number applying has grown to 4,000 people, that's an unprecedented situation," he said.
"People are very scared and frightened."
Ukraine said in a statement on Wednesday that just over 11,400 people crossed into Russia from Ukraine on June 3, a couple of hundred more than on the previous day, and that almost the same numbers came across from Russia.
"On the state border with Russia, not one Ukrainian citizen has expressed a desire to receive refugee status in Russia," the migration service said.
The Rostov region's governor Vasily Golubev declared a state of emergency in 15 cities close to the Ukrainian border on Wednesday, citing an influx of Ukrainians from the conflict zone.
"The emergency regime will allow us to more efficiently organise additional temporary accommodation for refugees from southeastern Ukraine," Golubev wrote on Twitter.
Russian children's rights commissioner Pavel Astakhov wrote on Instagram on Thursday that more than 8,300 Ukrainians had entered the Rostov region in the past 24 hours.