Thousands of Ukrainian refugees still living on ferry in Tallinn harbor

Tallink's Isabelle ferry.
Tallink's Isabelle ferry. Source: Anna Pavlenko/Raadio 4

Tallink's Isabelle ferry, which is used to temporarily house Ukrainian refugees, is still almost full four months after it was first converted. The average stay is around six weeks long, officials say.

With almost 1,000 refugees still arriving in Estonia every week, temporary accommodation solutions are needed by the state. At the moment, approximately 2,000 people are staying on the ship docked in Tallinn's harbor.

The Social Insurance Board (SKA) has signed a contract for the use of the ship until October. Scotland and the Netherlands have also shown interest in putting Tallink's ships to the same use in recent weeks.

Kirill Badikin, head of SKA's northern region, said the ferry's maximum capacity is 2,100. He said it is only a temporary solution and gives new arrivals a chance to familiarise themselves with Estonia, find a job and a place to live.

Residents are constantly coming and going and the average stay is six weeks, Badikin said.

He said life onboard the ship is diverse. There are entertainment events, adaptation programs and information sessions, a children's play area and classrooms.

"We have yoga classes here, we have a painting class here. Various youth centers work with children and young people. There is a club for the elderly. Various information sessions have been held in cooperation with various agencies, such as the Estonian Unemployment Insurance Fund, the labor inspection," Badikin told Friday's "Aktuaalne kaamera" (AK).

AK spoke to people living onboard who shared positive experiences.

Anastasia has been living on the ship for two and a half months. She said she has found a translation job and does not spend a lot of time on the ship.

"I was lucky because I registered with the Unemployment Fund and three days later a friend sent me a job advertisement. They have lived here for six years and told me [about it]. I called and then we had an interview and I immediately got a job," Anastasia said.

Ship residents Sergei and Ekaterina, originally from Mariupol which is now occupied, have been onboard for a week. They traveled to Estonia via Russia as they were not allowed to travel to Ukrainian-held territory.

They told AK they were grateful for the opportunity to stay on the ferry.

"We don't want to complain, on the contrary, we want to thank the Estonian people. The conditions are more than good," said Sergei.

However, the Estonian Refugee Council has raised concerns about people staying on the ferry for too long.

Center director Eero Janson was quoted by a British newspaper about a similar scheme in Scotland and said: "It's a quick solution to a very acute need. However, this space is designed for a one-night stay to cross the sea, not for the long term. Aren't even prisoners required to have bigger space?"


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Editor: Mirjam Mäekivi, Helen Wright

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