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ERR in Warsaw: Poles not tired of helping Ukrainians

Ukrainian school in Warsaw.
Ukrainian school in Warsaw. Source: ERR

Around 1.3 million Ukrainian refugees have stayed in Poland. The Poles have been helping refugees from Ukraine with all their heart, and even though initial enthusiasm has dissipated, the country is not tired of helping.

Even though it seems the war has been raging for a long time and everyone who has wished to leave Ukraine and find refuge have long since done so, while some have also returned, a few tens of thousands of Ukrainians still cross the Polish border every day.

"We lived near the sea in Henitchesk, in occupied Kherson Oblast. We passed through 40 Russian checkpoints. Once the chance to leave came, we took it," Tanja said.

She is now looking for a job, place to live and a kindergarten for her child in Warsaw. The Warsaw Ukrainian House is one support center helping refugees to find their footing. Employee Marek Sierant is half Polish, half Ukrainian. "Välisilm" asked him whether the Poles are growing tired of helping.

"Yes and no. Most Poles understand what the fight in Ukraine is about, who is the aggressor and who's the victim. Economic troubles have made us hungrier but not enough to cease aid. Help is still being given," Sierant said.

The flags in the streets of Ukraine are somewhat discolored. The nearness of war can be felt everywhere, whether one is reminded by refugees in the city square, aid organizations, street musicians or an artist who has set up an image of the Polish president next to the Pope. Polish ATMs are also in Ukrainian now.

Refugees have added 200,000 or 10 percent to the population of Warsaw.

"It is a major challenge for us. Our schools have 18,000 [Ukrainian] children. Over 60,000 refugees have registered jobs in Warsaw. It is a brilliant result to show that the refugees are integrating, leading normal lives. That they want to work and send their kids to school. We have guests, new neighbors, and it seems we are living together amicably in the city," Warsaw Deputy Mayor Aldona Machnowska-Gora said.

People from Ukraine are grateful for the help and say that finding simpler jobs in the service sector is not difficult in Poland if one is willing to put in the work. Things are trickier when it comes to skilled work that requires language proficiency and proof of professional ability.

Psychologist Irina Tsilynko has found professional work, and her skills are crucial for helping refugees. There are myriad problems, while there is one everyone shares.

"It is a state of internal controversy where people have completely lost the stability they had in Ukraine and do not know where to go next, whether to start from scratch here or return to a safer part of Ukraine," the psychologist said.

Tsilynko offers support to adults and children who have many opportunities to pursue activities, arts and crafts and simply spend time with Polish kids in Warsaw's youth centers.

Ukrainian children attend Polish schools, the Ukrainian online school and a few Ukrainian schools that follow Polish curricula. There are four such schools in Warsaw.

One school offers Ukrainian programs so that students could continue in Ukrainian schools right away upon returning. Learning is similar in Poland, Ukrainian students say. It is another question how one is supposed to concentrate on mathematics when one's country is being bombed and they have to adjust in a foreign environment. Things have become easier over time.

"I started opening up here in Warsaw. I plan to publish some of my poems which I love to write," student Zoriana Soroka said.

"It was hard during the first months of the war when we came here. But after a few months, I adjusted and all is well," Misha offered.

"The hardest thing is that we all had our own lives. Normal, good lives, we had homes, jobs and families, we were living our lives. Now, we are scattered, tragically. It is difficult to explain when they [children] ask for the reasons," Principal Oksana Kolesnyk said.

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Editor: Marcus Turovski

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