Poland welcomed two million Ukrainian refugees in three weeks

Of Giusi Fasano

At least 300,000 will stop in the capital Warsaw. A decree has established to extend the code to access school and health care for all refugees fleeing Ukraine

Had they told them a month ago, they themselves would not have believed it. Instead, here they are today, the Poles. Able to organize and welcome two million Ukrainian refugees in three weeks, with Warsaw in the lead which has so far counted 445,000, a sudden 17% more than its usual inhabitants. At least 300,000 of them, it is estimated, will stay in the city for an indefinite period and for everyone – plus others arriving – essential services are needed: accommodation, the possibility of going to school, accessing the national health service, getting around by public transport … This is as true for Warsaw as it is for Krakow, for Lublin, for Łd, for Wroclaw …

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The unprecedented wave

With a gigantic anti-bureaucracy operation and the incessant work of mayors, humanitarian associations and volunteers, the country has so far withstood a wave of migration that has no equal in Europe. To understand: the unprecedented decision that German Chancellor Angela Merkel took in the summer of 2015 envisaged welcoming 1.2 million asylum seekers fleeing Syria to Germany. Here it will not take many days to practically double the amount. Our thanks for this country will never be enough, says Dasha Lapinskaya who together with her mother Julia and her brother Maxim arrive at Warsaw Central Station from Odessa, where she left her father. I’m sure they think like me too, she points to the very long tail from which she just came out. They will not forget this welcome. Dasha’s and family’s destination: Dusseldorf, where Julia’s sister is waiting for them. Okay, she gets sad, but I’m still on the outward journey and I can’t wait to go home.

Arrival at the station

The hall of the station crowded with people with exhausted faces. Women and children, above all. They have come for days and days of travel by bus or train often forced to stop for long periods to avoid dangers. They packed their lives in the first bag they came across and left for the border. Many arrived at the gates with a plastic bag in their hands and a mobile phone to call husbands, brothers, fathers, children left to fight. A girl standing in line in front of a table offering tickets and information for those who want to travel to Spain has just heard one of her friends shooting and trying to stay alive in Kiev. What did he tell you? We ask. Not to stay in Poland because she is not sure, she replies. Sooner or later that madman will attack here too.

Pesel to refugees

For kids who play happily with a guy dressed as Pluto and a girl as Minnie, the station must look like a carnival. There are Disney characters, free toys and treats, piles of clothes and shoes to choose from, free chocolate and fries. One of the few who does not seem to have fun is the daughter of Veronika, a 34-year-old woman who comes from Sumy and who also arrived in Warsaw with her sister and nephew. three days we don’t sleep, she says. And she recommends: No surname because my colleagues don’t know that I left Ukraine. I’m on vacation. She doesn’t say it in front of her daughter but she makes it clear that he is accompanying her and then she will go home. She also traveled on one of the 300 couriers that shuttle between the border areas and the stations. Veronika does not stop in Poland so she will not have the pesel, a code that is assigned to every Pole at birth and which gives the right to access various services between school and health care. A decree established to extend the pesel to Ukrainian refugees and in one day alone in Warsaw 1,350 people had it.

The inclusion in the classroom

The school for refugees is the biggest problem. 8,600 children have already been placed in the capital. But not speaking Polish is a serious obstacle and various mayors have proposed zero welcome classes to the Ministry of Education: one year of training before actual insertion into the national educational system. Nobody knows today how long these people will be out of Ukraine, the spokesperson of the mayor of Warsaw, Monika Beuth-Lutyk, goes to the point. So we need to prepare to help them in the long run.

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