People fleeing Russia's invasion of Ukraine gather at the train station in Lviv, Ukraine, March 9, 2022.
People fleeing Russia's invasion of Ukraine gather at the train station in Lviv, Ukraine, March 9, 2022. Reuters / PAVLO PALAMARCHUK

The EU's welcome to people fleeing Russia's war in Ukraine raises hope the bloc might be able to overcome deep disagreements over hosting refugees from elsewhere in the world, Home Affairs Commissioner Ylva Johansson said on Thursday.

Johansson, the EU's top migration official, spoke as talks between Moscow and Kyiv made no progress towards a ceasefire on Thursday and the EU's 27 national leaders met to discuss their response to Russian President Vladimir Putin's invasion.

"We have received more than two million refugees from Ukraine," Johansson said. "More bombs are falling and we're going to see more people leaving. We're going to see an increase in the numbers of Ukrainian refugees in all EU countries.

"We have around one million children that have arrived now and it's important to bring some kind of normality to their lives, to put them in schools or childcare."

It is eastern EU countries Poland, Hungary, Romania and Slovakia, that previously refused to welcome Muslim immigrants, that have now thrown their borders open to people fleeing Ukraine, a Christian neighbour.

That stands in sharp contrast to 2015 when Warsaw and Budapest refused to allow in any of more than one million Syrians who reached the bloc, overwhelming the Mediterranean states of arrival as well as straining social and security capabilities in wealthy destinations like Germany.

With bitter feuds between the east, the west and the south of the bloc, the EU's migration system collapsed and the 27 members have since tightened their external borders to keep out people fleeing wars and poverty in the Middle East and Africa.

Now, the tables have turned and Poland has said it has already allowed in 1.43 million people from Ukraine. Nearly 350,000 crossed into Romania and over 150,000 reached both Slovakia and Hungary.

It remains to be seen when and how they will be accepted to settle among member states - something Warsaw and Budapest have persistently refused to do to alleviate pressure on their EU peers.

But Poland has made trains to Germany free and, for the time being, most Ukrainians have travelled on from the border themselves to relatives and friends already set up in the EU.

EU states unanimously agreed to ease access to jobs, schools, healthcare and welfare services, something they never granted Syria since the 2011 uprising against a Russia-backed president there slid into years of brutal war.

"This is unprecedented action and solidarity between member states and towards Ukraine refugees," Johansson said, noting the different response to a distant crisis in 2015.

"I'm not naive, I know it's going to be difficult to agree on the migration pact. But I am slightly optimistic," Johansson said of EU's stalled asylum reform that would require all 27 countries to host some refugees.

So far, the eastern camp led by Poland and Hungary have refused to sign up to that, while the southern and wealthy northern countries said no agreement made sense without such an obligation, a stalemate that has escaped solution for years.