The EU has extended special protection status for Ukrainian refugees for 12 months, as Russia carries out rocket attacks across the country.

This decision on Monday 10 October means that Ukrainians will be able to access a number of benefits, until March 2024, in any EU member state.

“Unfortunately, there could be a new wave of Ukrainians seeking protection in the EU after today’s attack,” Vsevolod Chentsov, Ukraine’s ambassador to the European Union, told reporters in Brussels. .

Russia on Monday fired some 83 missiles at urban targets in Ukraine, including the capital Kyiv, in retaliation for an attack that over the weekend partially destroyed the Russian-built bridge linking Crimea to the Russian mainland.

In a possible sign of further escalation, the attacks also come amid an announcement by Belarusian autocratic leader Alexander Lukashenko to jointly deploy a regional group of Belarusian and Russian troops.

The European Commission’s decision to extend its special EU protection status is likely to be a welcome reprieve for Ukrainians fleeing this latest round of indiscriminate Russian attacks.

The one-year extension of the so-called EU Temporary Protection Directive gives them the opportunity to work, go to school and access health care.

The program was launched earlier this year and currently covers around 4.2 million Ukrainians, but was due to expire in March next year.

Some 1.4 million Ukrainians were registered in Poland alone, followed by 709,000 in Germany and 442,000 in the Czech Republic, according to figures from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

Ylva Johansson, the EU’s home affairs commissioner, said Russia’s latest attack makes the one-year extension an important safeguard for those fleeing Ukraine.

She said Ukrainians returning home will be able to retain their EU protection status if they suddenly have to flee again.

“We have decided that you do not need to unsubscribe [from EU protection] when you come back,” she said.

While retaining protection status, Ukrainians returning to Ukraine will not have access to any special social benefits from the EU or member states during their stay in Ukraine.

The Russian invasion caused the largest refugee movement in Europe since World War II.

Filippo Grandi, the United Nations high commissioner for refugees, said on Monday that at least 6.2 million people were displaced inside Ukraine.

“Millions of Ukrainians, especially the elderly and the disabled, rely on all of us,” he said.

He also said the EU’s hosting of millions of Ukrainians has debunked anti-migrant myths.

“Last year, Europe was apparently unable to cope with a few dozen people disembarking from a boat,” he said.