Ukrainian refugees reflect on the war, 6 months later
As Russia’s invasion of Ukraine reaches its sixth month, many refugees come to the bitter realization that they won’t be returning home anytime soon.
With bombings around a nuclear power plant and missiles threatening even the western regions of Ukraine, many refugees do not feel safe at home, even though their homes are under Ukrainian control.
Although some plan to start a new life abroad, many are simply biding their time, waiting for the end of a war that shows no signs of ending soon, longing to return home and refusing to think too far into the future.
On March 8, nearly two weeks after Russia invaded Ukraine, Taisiia Mokrozub took her baby boy, separated from her husband and joined the exodus of people fleeing to safety in Poland.
She believed the war would end quickly and she would be back in May.
But with shelling near a nuclear power plant in her hometown of Zaporizhzhia, and the frontline so close, the 36-year-old’s husband told her to stay in Poland.
She now dreams of being home this winter, hoping that Ukraine will then have prevailed against Russia’s brutal onslaught.
“It seems to me that not only for me, but for all Ukrainians, time has stood still. We all live in a kind of vacuum,” she said.
The Russian invasion displaced millions of people, creating the largest human exodus since World War II.
The UN refugee agency says it is one of the largest forced displacement crises in the world today, with a third of Ukrainians forced from their homes.
UNHCR says there are more than 6.6 million internally displaced people and more than 6.6 million refugees across Europe.
European countries, in particular, have welcomed them without the political backlash unleashed by refugees from the Middle East and Africa in recent years.
Poland, the largest country bordering Ukraine, has taken in the most, with around 1.5 million Ukrainian refugees having registered national identification numbers that qualify them for social benefits.
“We didn’t want to go any further,” said Galina Inyutina, a 42-year-old woman who arrived in Poland in early March from Dnipro with her 11-year-old son. They yearn terribly for their forests, their fields and their food.
“Mom, if we go further, it will take us longer to get home,” he told her.
The arrival of so many people has exacerbated a pre-existing housing crisis in Warsaw, where rent prices have jumped 30% compared to last year, and in other cities that have attracted many refugees.
Siemens, the global technology company, has transformed office space at its Polish headquarters, creating hotel-style accommodation for nearly 160 people administered by the city government.
The property is clean, with food and laundry facilities provided free of charge.
Among those currently living there is Ludmila Fedotova, a 52-year-old woman from Zaporizhzhia, who has not found alternative accommodation.
She’s terrified of what’s going on at home, but can at least relax knowing she has shelter and food while she looks for work.
Oleh Yarovyi, from Khmelnytskyi in western Ukraine, immigrated to Poland six years ago and started a coffee franchise called dobro&dobro with his wife.
As they expanded, he lost Ukrainian men who helped with construction work and came back to fight, but he was able to hire Ukrainian women who can use their language on the job.
“Half of them are planning to go back, so they’re not even trying to learn Polish. They’re just looking for a simple job without any additional challenges,” Yarovyi said.
One of the employees is Tetiana Bilous, a 46-year-old woman who ran a short-term apartment rental business in Vinnytsia, Ukraine.
She fled two days after the start of the war, joining an adult daughter already in Warsaw.
She missed her husband so much that she returned home for a two-week visit, but felt terrified because of the attacks and the sirens.
In a context of war, some refugees ask for books in Ukrainian, which led the Ukrainian House in Warsaw to transform a small collection of books into a larger library with the help of funding from the United Nations.
Librarian Oleksandr Pestrykov said readers often came from areas of Ukraine where the Russian language was predominant, Ukrainian citizens who did not necessarily feel culturally Ukrainian before.
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