Poland is fighting for the absorption of Ukrainian refugees: NPR


People fleeing the war in Ukraine and representatives of the Ukrainian diaspora pray on Sunday at the Orthodox Church in Krakow.

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People fleeing the war in Ukraine and representatives of the Ukrainian diaspora pray on Sunday at the Orthodox Church in Krakow.

Amar Marquez / Getty Images

KRAKOW, Poland – Galia Alacheva, a 17-year-old art-loving girl from the Ukrainian port city of Odessa, is drinking tea in a pop-up dining room hidden in a closed mall.

She and her mother Sarah Tarashchanskaya have lived in the mall since fleeing the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Polish authorities converted it into a refugee shelter.

“We eat here, we cook here, we sleep here, we do everything here,” says Alacheva. “Ever since we left Ukraine, this is our home.”


Galya Alacheva and her mother Sarah Tarashchanskaya are sitting together in a pop-up dining room in an abandoned shopping center that has been converted into a shelter for Ukrainian refugees.

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Galya Alacheva and her mother Sarah Tarashchanskaya are sitting together in a pop-up dining room in an abandoned shopping center that has been converted into a shelter for Ukrainian refugees.

Joanna Kakisis / NPR

More than 150,000 displaced Ukrainians now live in Krakow, Poland’s second largest city. This increased the city’s population by 20% in just a few weeks, forcing the UN Refugee Agency to open an office here. In recent weeks, more than 2 million Ukrainians have entered Poland, although the Polish authorities estimate that less than half remain.

Last month, Poland passed a law that allows Ukrainians to live and work legally in the country for at least 18 months with the possibility of extension. The Polish state provides financial assistance to municipalities struggling to find long-term housing, jobs and places in schools for beginners.

From her point of view, Alacheva says that everything is going smoothly.

“I’ve heard that it’s hard for us to find a place in Krakow,” she said. “But, you know, I don’t feel unwanted at all.”

Krakow authorities are trying to help Ukrainians find work

Poland’s Minister of Family and Social Policy Marlena Malag announced earlier this month that 30,000 Ukrainians have already found work in Poland.

Alachova’s mother, a psychologist, is one of them, advising other displaced Ukrainians.


Backpacks at the Krakow Primary School, which accepts Ukrainian students.

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“A third of the Ukrainians I met here have higher education, and more than half have a technical or some education,” – says Tarashchanskaya. “The key is to find a job you’re trained for.”

Tarashchanskaya sees herself as lucky; she works in her field. There are few jobs for skilled or specialized workers, says Radoslaw Strzelecki, who helps Ukrainians find work.

“Most of the work we have available is simple, such as working in a warehouse or cleaning service,” he said, checking a computer database of available vacancies. “Ukrainians all claim them because they want to work.”

Strzelecki and two other Poles work in the booth of the employment center, which is part of the help center inside the giant sports arena. Near the booth are rows of long tables where volunteers help Ukrainians fill out documents on 11-digit Polish identification numbers that help Ukrainians get benefits and medical care.

Ukrainian teachers help refugee children adapt to new schools in Poland

Krakow’s longtime mayor Jacek Maichrowski, whose office, along with humanitarian organizations and volunteers, manages refugee assistance, says the local school system hires displaced Ukrainian teachers as assistants. This is especially useful for children who are adapting to a new environment.

“Language is definitely an issue because most [Ukrainian] children do not speak Polish at all, and they feel very lost, he says. – It was about opening a special Ukrainian school, but we did not want them to feel that we put them in a ghetto. We wanted them to be in our schools. ”

In the primary school named after the Polish writer of the twentieth century Arkady Fiedler, an assistant Ukrainian teacher walks down the hall with a group of Ukrainian students.

One is 11-year-old Linda Varonaya, a skinny girl with a Pixie haircut and a wary smile. She says she is from Kiev, where she loved to ride in the parks with friends.

Here she had a new friend, 12-year-old Christina Vitkovskaya, also from Kiev. Christina tells Linda about her dad who died two years ago. She brought his sweater with her to Krakow. She says that leaving Kyiv, where she had so many memories with her father, she felt that he was leaving her life again.

School principal Bozhena Mikas hugs the girls. She says that the school had room for dozens of additional Ukrainian students, and parents bought them backpacks with everything they needed – notebooks, pens, markers.

“We want to offer students security, not just education,” Mikas says.

She says that every Ukrainian child in her school wants to return home. But Maykhrovsky, the mayor, is not optimistic that this will happen any time soon. He says he regularly talks to the mayor of Lviv, a western Ukrainian city where hundreds of thousands of displaced Ukrainians have sought refuge.

As this war drags on, says Maichrowski, many may find themselves in Krakow.

“We have found a place for the first wave of refugees,” he said, “but we do not know what will happen next.”

David Kravchyk contributed to this report in Krakow.

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