Europe is struggling to meet the growing needs of millions fleeing Ukraine

People fleeing the Russian invasion of Ukraine arrive at the Siret border crossing
A girl hugs her father as he crossed the border after he fled to Romania from Kharkiv, Ukraine, following the Russian invasion of Ukraine at the border crossing in Siret, Romania, March 21, 2022. REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne

March 22, 2022

By Anna Wlodarczak-Semczuk, Karol Badohal and Luiza Ilie

WARSAW/BUCHAREST (Reuters) – More than 3.5 million people have fled the war in Ukraine abroad, United Nations data showed on Tuesday.

The millions who have left Ukraine since the Russian invasion began have made their way to neighboring countries such as Poland and Romania by foot, train, bus or car, before some continue through Europe. However, most have not done so.

While fewer people have crossed borders over the past week, the magnitude of the task of providing a home to those seeking protection in the European Union is becoming increasingly clear, especially in Eastern and Central Europe.

Poland, home to the region’s largest Ukrainian diaspora, was already taking in more than 2.1 million people before the war, and while some plan to go elsewhere, the influx has left public services struggling to cope.

“The number of children of refugees from Ukraine in Polish schools is increasing by about 10,000 every day,” Education Minister Przemyslaw Czarnek told public broadcaster, saying that 85,000 children had enrolled in Polish schools.

Czarnek said the authorities are organizing courses in basic Polish for Ukrainian teachers so that they can be employed in local schools and teach preparatory classes for Ukrainian children before they enter the school system.

As men of draft age are required to remain in Ukraine, the exodus consisted primarily of women and children, many of whom wished to remain in countries near Ukraine to be closer to their loved ones left behind.

In a video posted to Twitter, Mayor Rafal Trzaskowski said that 10,000 Ukrainian students have enrolled in Warsaw schools and that a variety of options, including Ukrainian online courses, are needed to avoid a collapse of the city’s education system.

“We will be flexible, we will act because we want all these young people who are in Warsaw to be able to study, whatever option they choose,” he said.

More than 500,000 people have fled to Romania, the second most to Poland. The authorities there are trying to assess the task at hand as they try to recruit Ukrainian teachers from among the refugees.

Cosmina Simiean Nicolescu, head of Bucharest’s social welfare department, said 60 Ukrainian children started classes there this week, while many private kindergartens and schools took in refugees.

As refugee numbers neared their peak in parts of Eastern Europe, Nicolescu said refugees were returning to Romania hoping to find a less difficult situation.

“There are people that we personally put on trains to go west that we see at the station,” she said.


The needs of those fleeing shelling and rocket attacks in war-torn Ukraine, who carry harrowing memories and the pain of separation from family, go well beyond education.

The International Organization for Migration (IOM) has organized psychological first aid training near the Polish-Ukrainian border to help volunteers take care of the many people with mental health problems.

Paloma Cuchi, the World Health Organization representative in Poland, estimated that 30,000 of those who reached the country suffered from serious mental health problems, while half a million needed mental health support because of the conflict.

“Children have been traveling for days without real food, without real water, they’re tired, worried,” she said.

Barbara Slowinska, a school psychologist, said staff at Number 26 Primary School in Gdynia, Poland, worked hard to overcome language difficulties and help the 60 children who had arrived from Ukraine integrate.

“We try to talk to the children as much as possible,” she said, adding that adjusting to the new environment is the most important concern.

“They don’t talk about traumatic experiences. We should rather reassure them about their current reality in Poland,” said Slowinska.

“That time will come, but that is yet to come. Now they have to face reality.”

While border crossings like Medyka in eastern Poland and Isaccea in northeastern Romania are less busy, officials fear an intensification of fighting in Ukraine could spark a new influx.

The head of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), Filippo Grandi, said Sunday the war had uprooted 10 million people, most of whom were still displaced within Ukraine rather than abroad.

Russia denies attacking civilians and describes its actions as a “military special operation” to demilitarize and “denazify” Ukraine. Ukraine and Western allies call this a baseless pretext for Russia’s invasion of a democratic country.

(Additional reporting by Pawel Florkiewicz in Warsaw, Emma Thomasson in Berlin, Jan Lopatka and Jason Hovet in Prague; writing by Niklas Pollard, editing by Ed Osmond) Europe is struggling to meet the growing needs of millions fleeing Ukraine

Bobby Allyn

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