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Two years later: Polish Red Cross urges continued support for Ukrainian refugees

CAREERSTwo years later: Polish Red Cross urges continued support for Ukrainian refugees

After two years of war in Ukraine, the interest of Poles in providing aid is much smaller than at the beginning of the conflict. However, this assistance is still much needed, as the number of casualties and war-related losses is increasing each day, and about a million Ukrainian refugees remain in Poland. The challenges at this moment are related to their integration. We also focus on helping those refugees from Ukraine who are genuinely needy, such as single mothers raising several children, the elderly, and people with disabilities – says Michał Mikołajczyk, a member of the board of the Polish Red Cross.

Two years have passed since the beginning of the war in Ukraine, and aid is still needed. Our interest is not as great as it was a year or two years ago, but this should not mean indifference. Sometimes we may be tired of helping, of feeling sympathy, but we should not stop helping, we should not stop being interested in this subject – emphasizes in an interview with the Newseria Biznes agency Michał Mikołajczyk.

Two years ago, on February 24, 2022, the forces of the Russian Federation attacked Ukraine, starting a full-scale war and escalating the conflict that had been ongoing since 2014. The Polish people massively donated money and material gifts to the fighting Ukraine. The Ukraine, Bank Światowy, European Commission and UN recently publish a report estimating that the total cost of rebuilding Ukraine over the next decade will be 486 billion dollars. Last year it was estimated to be 411 dollars. During 2024 alone, Ukrainian authorities estimate that approximately 15 billion dollars will be needed for urgent reconstruction needs.

The needs change, as does the scope of the war, as does the territory where the occupier carries out operations and the number of refugees who come to Poland. At the very beginning, it was undoubtedly food, water, hygiene products, later – in addition to these basic necessities – also things that help to stand on one’s feet, e.g. in new, rented homes. Later on, there was help with assimilation, e.g. for children in schools. That’s why we distributed over 100,000 school kits for Ukrainian children to make them “land” as smoothly as possible into the Polish school system. However, today long-term aid is important, targeted to specific needy groups and certainly integration – says the PCK representative.

The Polish Economic Institute reports that during the first three months of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, 70% of Poles got involved in helping the refugees. The private expenditure for this purpose could have reached 10 billion PLN during this period. This shows the scale of involvement in the early months of the war. The statistics of collections on the portal illustrate this – the service estimates that since the outbreak of the war, Poles have donated a total of about PLN 50 million to aid runs conducted in support of our eastern neighbours.

Currently, this is not the range of assistance that was observed two years ago when we were passing on hundreds, even thousands of tons of food, beverages, hygiene products, basic necessities to people who came from Ukraine with one bag. Today we aim for this help to be more tailored, we focus on helping those refugees from Ukraine who are really needy, such as single mothers raising several children, the elderly, or people with disabilities, because among about a million Ukrainians who are in Poland, some of them are these groups most at risk and harmed by the current situation – says Michał Mikołajczyk.

According to GUS data at the end of last March, there were 997,800 Ukrainian citizens in Poland, of whom almost 65% were women, mainly with children. Almost 166,000 of them attended Polish preschool institutions, primary schools, and upper secondary schools. The number of Ukrainian refugees in Poland gradually decreased in the first half, but by the end of the year, this trend began to reverse, and it is currently estimated that about 1.2 million Ukrainians who fled their country because of the war are in Poland.

There are sixteen integration centres of the Polish Red Cross, which each month are visited by about 4,000 people, where besides Polish language courses, vocational courses and opportunities to upgrade qualifications – we integrate Ukrainians with Poles. This requires resources, here in Poland, but we still remember to send aid to Ukraine at the same time. We are constantly in contact with the Ukrainian Red Cross, sending transports, convoys of aid there in place, responding to the needs reported by our sister association from the very beginning – says the board member of the Polish Red Cross.

One of the biggest challenges in the context of integrating Ukrainian citizens still remains employment and the labour market. According to last year’s data published by the National Bank of Poland, among the refugees, 62% of people were working, while in November 2022 it was slightly more – 65%. The percentage of job seekers is about 25%, significantly above the corresponding indicator overall in Poland, and just over 10% of refugees did not work and did not seek work.

Finding a job is undoubtedly one of the pillars of a sense of security. From the very beginning, the Polish Red Cross has made efforts to make it easier for these people in this area. Hence the Polish language courses, vocational courses and related to the nature of our activity, such as training for sisters of the Polish Red Cross, first aid courses, but also many vocational courses, to facilitate the entry of women from Ukraine into the labour market as smoothly as possible – enumerates Michał Mikołajczyk. – These classes are still popular and we are still receiving information that people after these courses are finding work.

The NBP report shows that despite the ongoing process of Ukrainians’ adaptation to life in Poland, some of them still expect some support from Poland: mainly help in finding a job, organizing Polish language courses and easier legalization of their stay. The percentage of people expecting the organization of Polish language courses has significantly decreased compared to previous rounds of research.

The PCK helps as its experience suggests: from urgent to long-term aid, psychological support. Therefore, we launched hotlines, integration centres, we cooperate with psychologists, educators, teachers, educators of various professions, hence educators who take care of children in our integration centres, in support points. We are open to including Ukrainians in the ranks of our volunteers and employees. Many of these people, who themselves received help over dozens of months, stayed with us – says Michał Mikołajczyk.

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