The Russian invasion in Ukraine leaves most of the residents and foreign nationals with only one option, to fee for safety. To date, over a million Ukrainians have already fled for safety, even if most of them are opting to heed their President’s call of staying back and fighting to defend their country. The UN refugees project that refugees might soar to over 4 million people in the coming years if the status quo remains.
More than half the fleeing people have entered Poland, with the majority of them settling in the cities of Lublin and Rzeszow, according to research conducted by Direct Relief’s Research and Analysis team with the focus of understanding where people are likely to go and which resources will be most needed by them once they arrive.
Poland is not the only country that has been kind and warned to the Ukrainians as Slovakia, Moldova, Romania, and Hungary have also been welcoming the refugees. According to Hungary’s Prime Minister, the Ukrainians arriving in the country are finding a friendly place. In Poland, similar sentiments were echoed by the country’s interior minister, saying, “We will do everything to provide safe shelter in Poland for everyone who needs it.” Ukrainians in the waiting room at the Polish border are being given sandwiches. The country’s citizens are then meeting their counterparts from Ukraine with hot tea and much more goodies, including offering free rides to escort the Ukrainians to the areas they want to go to in the country. One thing that stands out in this open-arms policy is the contradiction with what was happening in these countries about a month ago, where strict immigration policies were enforced against anyone freeing places like Afghanistan, Syria, and Iraq.
Just two months earlier, Orbán said Hungary was keeping its restrictive immigration policies: “[W]e aren’t going to let anyone in.” Experts who observed this trend noted that the variation was not racially motivated alone but largely because of the cultural differences. For example, the history between the people of Poland and Ukraine is deep-rooted. Politics also played a role in determining which refugees to bar and the ones to welcome in the countries. For example, the fear of terrorism over the last two decades has shaped the reception of the refugees from countries perceived as a potential threat to any host country.
There is also the public perception that those fleeing from Ukraine are different from other refugees. The Bulgarian Prime Minister clarified these sentiments. “These people are Europeans,” Petkov said. “These people are intelligent; they are educated people. … This is not the refugee wave we have been used to, people we were not sure about their identity, people with unclear pasts, who could have been even terrorists …” Women and children are the majority of people fleeing Ukraine from the war as men between 18 and 60 years have been ordered by the Ukrainian President to stay back and help defend their country.