Ukrainians in Poland thankful, desperate to go home

Ukrainians in Poland thankful, desperate to go home

Nearly 1M Ukrainians have crossed Polish border since Russia attacked Ukraine

By Jo Harper

WARSAW (AA) - The Kremlin’s strategy has failed miserably in Poland with very little anti-Ukrainian sentiment and no waning in popular or governmental support for Kyiv, according to experts and ordinary Poles and Ukrainians.

“I am a Pole, a Polish citizen, and I don’t think Poland is a country of angels or is run by angels. But I am surprised by my country and I am proud, at all levels we have done quite a good job,” says Igor Janke, director of the Freedom Institute in Warsaw.

“I am very happy and surprised that Poland has kept its heart open, and thankful,” says Mariana Zlahodniuk, a Ukrainian entrepreneur living in Warsaw.

“We know how Poland used to be protective of its borders against refugees in the past. But my heart melts when I see such amazing support both on a personal level of my surroundings, Polish friends and environment. Poland has also shown the most support on the governmental level,” said Zlahodniuk.

“The most important is that Poland keeps its borders open for refugees, people who have lost their homes and looking for missile-free skies. Polish medical help is also crucial,” she said.

The number of Ukrainians who crossed the border into Poland since the war with Russia began last February is 9,657,000, with 7,798,000 going back to Ukraine, according to the Polish Border Guards.

“The numbers are down from last year, when we had 140,000 people every day at some point. But it’s still large, sometimes 40,000 a day,” said Anna Michalska, spokesperson for the Border Guards in Warsaw.

- Emotional

Michalska said the Border Guards are often emotional when they see inflows of desperate people.

“We cry sometimes. We see ourselves in these refugees. What would happen if this was in Poland?” she asked. “We have often been the first people Ukrainians escaping the war see in Poland, and we want to make them feel safe. That is our main priority,” she said.

- Ukrainian orphans in Poland

At the Ossa hotel complex, 75 kilometers (47 miles) south of Warsaw, some of the 300 Ukrainian children staying here ride around on bikes and scooters.

“They miss home,” said the director of the center, Oksana Krymiuk. “To go home is what they want most.”

Up to 6,000 Ukrainian children - ranging in ages from 5 to 18 -- without legal guardians, have arrived in Poland and many more await evacuation from their homeland.

“The trauma among many of these kids is huge. There are many with psychiatric issues, bed wetting and nightmares are common,” said Maia Mazurkiewicz, from the NGO, Alliance4Children Ukraine.

When Russia invaded on Feb. 24, there were 105,000 children in Ukraine’s 700 institutions, 1% of the child population -- the highest rate of institutionalization in Europe, according to data from the European Union and UNICEF.

It is not known exactly how many children from Ukraine are staying in Poland.

Ukraine’s state record-keeping system, UIAS “Children,” was not capable of tracking or tracing children sent home from institutions, according to the Support to Ukraine’s Reforms for Governance project (SURGe), a Canadian government-funded agency.

- Ukrainians at work

Almost 14,000 Ukrainian companies were set up in Poland from January to September 2022, according to a report by the Polish Economic Institute, a public economic think-tank.

According to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), Poland spent €8.36 billion ($8.98 billion) on housing, health care and other services for Ukrainians in 2022, the highest among member countries.

Looking to the future, Bogdan Zawadewicz, foreign affairs expert at Polish bank BGK, said: “It has taken our region already 30 years to catch up with Western European economic standards and we are still in the process. We strongly assume that Ukraine can do it and should do it much quicker than we did.”

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