WARSAW, POLAND – Over 2.3 million Ukrainian refugees fleeing the Russia-Ukraine war have entered Poland in the past six weeks — filling buses, train stations and refugee centers across the country and searching for shelter, education and jobs.
“This is the biggest refugee wave not only in the history of Poland, but also Europe, at least in such a short time frame,” Poland’s Deputy Minister of Justice Marcin Romanowski told the Daily Caller. Over 4.6 million Ukrainians have fled the country since Feb. 24 at the onset of the war.
“According to our analysis, we can accept, without problems, about 700,000 to 800,000 refugees,” he said. “One of the problems is the relocation of refugees inside Poland because many of them came to Warsaw and to bigger cities. We have to convince people to move to smaller cities.”
Accommodating millions of new people has been a challenge, particularly in providing housing and access to school, Romanowski said. Some Ukrainians froze to death waiting to cross the border and over 40,000 new students have entered Polish schools in the past weeks, he added. (RELATED: EXCLUSIVE: 11-Year-Old Girl Shot In The Face By Russian Soldier Crosses Into Poland)
Romanowski called on the U.S. to accept more than 100,000 refugees, and said President Joe Biden’s rhetoric towards Russia in the weeks before the war was “very dangerous and surprising,” particularly his gaffe saying that a “minor incursion” into Ukraine would be permissible.
The rhetoric of the Biden administration and the E.U. left the door more open for Russian aggression, he added.
Warsaw, Poland’s capital, accepted over 300,000 refugees, according to numbers from mid March. The city’s mayor, Rafał Trzaskowski, has expressed concern about the ability to accommodate everyone and called the situation “difficult.”
300,000 refugees have arrived in @warszawa since Russia attacked Ukraine on February 24. Our city remains the main destination for Ukrainian refugees. Situation is getting more and more difficult every day. Warsaw stands and will #StandWithUkraine. Support. Donate. pic.twitter.com/TsvxjZXEEB
— Rafał Trzaskowski (@trzaskowski_) March 11, 2022
“There is no system with which we can welcome millions more refugees. I’ve just talked to some of the experts, and they say that we can expect five, seven million,” he told CBS News March 14.
Krakow, Poland’s second largest city, has accepted 150,000 refugees, increasing its population by 20%, according to NPR.
The Polish government provides some shelter, food, health care, transportation and education for the refugees, but volunteers and organizations also play a large role in distributing aid. The Polish government passed a law March 12 allowing Ukrainians to live in the country for 18 months, and paying businesses and individuals who host the refugees €250 for a period of two months.
The majority of the Polish population is eager to accept Ukrainians into the country and provide private housing accommodations, according to Romanowski.
In Warsaw, Ukrainian flags are flown on buses, in business windows, on billboards, and are painted on murals, sometimes accompanied with a message of solidarity with Ukraine. The warm response is in part due to Poland’s close history with Ukraine, similar language and their common relationship with Russia, Romanowski said. (RELATED: EXCLUSIVE: European Country Building A Wall On Its Border Tells Joe Biden How To Do It Right)
A majority of the Polish people agree that “if Ukraine fails, the next country attacked by Russia will be probably Poland,” he said.
In Warsaw, Ukrainians have access to free housing provided by institutions, Jacob, a Polish volunteer at the central train station, told the Daily Caller. Volunteers at the train station tell Ukrainian refugees which housing is available and how to get there.
Volunteers from around the world also provide translation services, food, shelter, medical attention and transportation at the border crossings, refugee centers and train stations across Poland. Volunteers told the Daily Caller that they can’t stop the war, but the least they can do is provide aid. (RELATED: ‘Hit By A Missile’: Dogs, Cats Injured In Ukraine War Get Aid At Border)
The temporary problems Poland is experiencing are expected to alleviate in the next few months, Romanowski said. The majority of the refugees are expected to go back whenever the war is over, he added.
“The huge majority of the refugees are women and children, 95% of them, and they will just want to come back to Ukraine after the war,” he said, noting that hundreds have already gone back as the situation in the west of the country remains relatively calm. Men ages 18-60 are mandated to stay behind in Ukraine to fight.
Polish trains are full of Ukrainians going back home to work, see their families and plant crops, Ukrainian refugees told the Daily Caller. “There is accommodation available in the European Union, and we are thankful. But at the end of the day, it’s not our home, and I can’t imagine staying there forever,” Olena Tsyrina, a 35-year-old Ukrainian woman travelling with her son back to Ukraine after being in Denmark for weeks told the Daily Caller.