Thousands of Ukrainians are fleeing across the border into Russia as pro-Russian forces defy the new interim government and the conflict threatens to escalate, Russian officials said Saturday.
"According to the border services, since the beginning of the events in Ukraine, 143,000 people have already left Ukraine for Russia," the Senate's deputy speaker Yevgeny Bushmin said in a televised speech Saturday as the upper house voted to approve military intervention.
The head of the citizenship department of the Federal Migration Service, Valentina Kazakova, confirmed the number to journalists.
"The tragic events in Ukraine have sharply increased the number of applications to regional migration authorities," she said, quoted by the ITAR-TASS news agency.
"In the last two weeks of February around 143,000 people have applied. That puts great pressure on the regions bordering Ukraine. People are bewildered, frightened and despondent," she said.
She said that Ukrainians who already live in Russia were also applying for citizenship in greater numbers than usual.
The governors of three of the five Russian regions bordering Ukraine told ITAR-TASS news agency that thousands were arriving across the frontier.
The governor of Bryansk region, Nikolai Denin, told ITAR-TASS he observed "an influx of Ukrainian citizens who want to stay in Russia until the situation normalises in their country."
The governor of the Rostov region Vasily Golubev said he also saw a "significant inflow of Ukrainian citizens."
The governor of the Belgorod region, Yevgeny Savchenko, said that "thousands of good people are coming to the Belgorod region, not only from southeastern Ukraine but also from its central region, escaping from the lawlessness of rebels who seized power in Kiev."
Ukraine has a population of around 46 million, while Crimea, where pro-Kremlin militia have taken control, has around 2 million residents.