Conflicts & War

Ukrainian refugees greeted in cities across Poland

By Miguel Ángel Gayo Macías

Krakow, Poland, Mar 3 (EFE).- Refugee welcome centers in major Polish cities are starting to receive the hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians who have fled across the border to escape the Russian invasion.

Over one million people have left Ukraine in the week since Russia launched its attack on its smaller neighbor, with around half heading to Poland, according to Polish authorities.

Following an odyssey that in some cases can take 24 hours, and the danger and uncertainty that the journey out of Ukraine entails, thousands of refugees, the vast majority women, children and older people, have begun to arrive in Poland’s urban hubs.

At the train station in Krakow, authorities have set up a so-called absorption center, where refugees can receive free legal assistance, food, clothing and a place to sleep for their first 24 hours in the country.

Accommodation has also been set up in schools and community centers while many Poles have temporarily opened up their homes to the Ukrainians fleeing the war.

Grzegorz Sobol, a council employee in charge of supervising an improvised welcome center in a Krakow station storage area tells Efe: “For now, the situation is difficult but not desperate; we have so many donations from local residents in the city that we still have enough to help out.”

There is a hive of activity at the welcome center, where lines of refugees wait to officially register before being directed to accommodation.

In the station’s shopping mall, crowds of Ukrainian women, children in tow, browse the shops and sit down for a rest at the cafeteria tables.

A Ukrainian man who preferred not to give his name told Efe he had left his village, in Ukraine’s eastern Donetsk region, days ago and had “to do everything” to make it to Poland. Next to him, a man in his 60s, who also chose to withhold his name, said he regretted not staying in Ukraine to “die fighting rather than of old age.”

The government has said it was able to take in “a million” Ukrainians fleeing the war — around two million Ukrainians lived in Poland before the Russian invasion last week.

In cities like Krakow, Polish and Ukrainian flags fly side by side from balconies, windows and building facades.

Ukrainian nationals can access public and municipal rail services as well as some taxi services for free upon proof of identity in Poland.

To further accommodate refugees, Poland’s education minister Przemysław Czarnek announced that public schools could admit the estimated 200,000 Ukrainian children who have arrived in the country since the Russian invasion, most of whom are school-age.EFE


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