The CNN team on the ground joined the queue, but moved less than half a mile (0.8 kilometres) in 70 minutes, an average that means crossing the border took more than 60 hours. Of course, waiting times can vary.
About 30 miles (48 kilometers) from the border, some Ukrainians got out of their cars and began a long drive to the village of Medica in southeastern Poland.
Among them, two young girls jumped happily, unaware that they were about to embark on a 30-mile walk.
“It’s nice to cross but also sad to leave my country in such desperation,” said a woman after crossing into Medica in the early hours of Saturday. She said she took some of her sentimental belongings from her Kiev apartment “just to remind her if anything happened”.
On the M13 motorway toward another point along the border, the CNN team encountered no fewer than five checkpoints set up at the entrances to the towns they passed through.
Concrete slits, or serpentine curves, were set up to slow traffic, and beside newly installed concrete barriers at some checkpoints, piles of tires were assembled intended to be lit and rolled into the road in case Russian troops attempted to enter the towns.
“We can say that up to 4 million people can actually cross the border, if things continue to deteriorate, which they have so far,” Holmes added, noting that Ukrainians have to make “life or death” decisions.
The CNN team said the Ukrainians who headed to the border were mostly women and children, and that they “given up” for the journey, having accepted it as their “only option”.
At a gas station not far from the border, CNN spoke to a woman who had waited “days” to cross into Poland with her husband and two young children but is now heading home in the Ukrainian city of Lviv.
The family tried to make the trip together, and were queued to leave when martial law was imposed. Since the woman’s husband had a permit to work in Poland, they tried to cross – but her husband was turned away. Faced with the choice of separating or staying together, they decide to stay in Ukraine as a family.
However, non-Ukrainian men are allowed to leave and have been seen waiting to cross at the border or at the train station amid crowds made up largely of women and children. Many students or hospitality and service workers.
Some Ukrainian men had better luck than others, convincing the border guards to let them leave. One of them was Sergei Zalankov, and he left on a train for the Polish town of Przemysl with his wife and children.
“Most people, they didn’t have the tickets. So they just stormed the train… I mean, it was like a stampede,” Zalankov told CNN. “People were trying to get in no matter what.”
At the train station, volunteers distributed food and connected people with places to stay, including guest houses and a school gymnasium. People gathered and tried to stay warm, and the children slept on cots in the hallway. Several people raised banners showing the new arrivals’ trips to various locations across Poland.
“There was chaos, a lot of people were walking around,” Zalankov said of the train, adding that no one had checked tickets. “But I mean, people run to escape. People run for their lives, so I don’t blame them.”