Poland is struggling under the burden of the Ukrainian refugee crisis

WYSZATYCE, Poland – Anna Wisloka is the kind of person who hates being a guest hungry. When someone sits at her wooden kitchen table, she sips her specialty coffee – with cinnamon – and a plate of cookies.

Several families of Ukrainians: Irina Morikovs and Oksana Kaimich and their three children, Wisloka, the grocery store cashier, were inspired to open a pale pink five-bedroom house with generous interior wood panels.

“I can not help but help Irina and Oksana,” said Wisloka, 55, sitting in a sunny kitchen in the quiet village of Vysoடைs, a few miles from the Ukrainian border. “It’s natural for me to react like this.”

Wisloka, whose broad face easily folded with a smile, was one of thousands of Poles who showed mercy to the Ukrainians who had fled the civil war next door. According to the United Nations, Poland, a country of 38 million people, has already taken in about 2.6 million Ukrainian refugees, or 60 percent of the total exodus since the Russian invasion began in late February.

Many Poles have welcomed Ukrainian families into their homes, collected donations and offered to help refugees. Despite millions of personal examples of the generosity of the Ukrainians leaving, there are growing concerns that Poland will not be able to withstand this level of immigration.

When NBC News visited Wyszatyce last month, they said Ukrainians were staying at Wiszlok’s house – they were cooking and eating with the host, her husband and her daughter.

“I sometimes regret that they are sacrificing their comfort for us,” said Morikwas, 36, in Ukrainian.

Morikovs, a children’s book chart, escaped last month with his 10-year-old son, Matvi, from the Ukrainian border town of Lviv, 50 miles east of Vysotsky. They came to Poland with their neighbor Oksana Kaimich and her children Danil, 8, and Anna, 3.

Anna Wisloka, 55, was entertaining six refugees when NBC News visited her home in March.Jacobia Tom for NBC News

Kaimich, 35, showed a reporter around his room on the second floor of Wisloka’s house, which he shared with his two children. This is next to what Morriquas shared with his son.

It has everything you need, Kaimich said – a TV, a comfortable bed and even a balcony.

Khymych, a professor of economics at Lviv Polytechnic National University, said in Ukrainian, “We ended up with good people.

Tomasz Szeleszczuk, the district official in charge of nine villages, including Wyszatyce, said he was proud to welcome Ukrainians to his village.

“We can help them right now,” said Seleschuk, 43.

But if more people come, the community will need more help from Polish authorities, he said. Szeleszczuk said he was concerned about the possible impact of the refugee crisis on health care and the nationwide economy.

“This is a challenge for the whole organization,” he said.

Wyszatyce is a Polish village a few miles from the border with Ukraine. Jacobia Tom for NBC News

The flow of Ukrainian refugees into Poland has slowed in recent weeks – 28,908 entered on April 9, compared to a peak of 141,000 on March 6, according to the UN. According to him, many more could come if hostilities escalate in Ukraine.

Speaking with President Joe Biden during his visit to Poland last month, Polish President Andrzej Duda warned that if the Russian occupation continues, the number of refugees will continue to rise, posing a “major challenge” to Poland.

Shared history

While the evacuation came as a shock to millions of Ukrainians who fled their homes due to Russian threats, bullets and bombs, close cultural and historical ties with Poland have made it easier for many to land.

The nations shared two eras of peaceful coexistence and rivalry, said Pyotr Kroll, a historian at the University of Warsaw.

Irina Morriquas is a children’s book chart.Jacobia Tom for NBC News

In the 19th century, Ukraine and Poland were under Russian and Austro-Hungarian rule, Krol said. But both nations fought for independence, which led to conflict when they both claimed the same land, treating it as part of their state.

“In the 20th century, the poles made these dreams come true and part of the Ukrainian lands became part of the Polish state,” Kroll said.

Poland has accused Ukrainian nationalists of ethnic cleansing of the poles during World War II, and in recent years, Warsaw has demanded that Kiev be held accountable for the massacres of the 20th century.

That history remains an emotional and divisive issue, but after Russia’s occupation of Ukraine in February, many in Poland set aside historical differences, said Yvonne Babko, a museum supervisor and historian at the border town of Bresmis, where many Ukrainian refugees go.

“It’s wonderful to see both countries supporting each other, leaving behind a painful past,” Popco said.

Anti-immigration rhetoric

Poland’s response to the refugee crisis is significant because in the past, right – wing leaders have openly opposed immigration, despite the fact that immigrants are from different parts of the world.

In Europe dealing with the refugee crisis in the Middle East after the war in Syria, the ruling law and justice party came to power in 2015 as part of its fierce anti-immigrant rhetoric.

Last year, the Polish government, mostly from Iraq and Afghanistan, was criticized for treating refugees on the Belarusian border.

But the Polish ruling elite changed its music when it came to the Ukrainians.

Duda said last month that the Ukrainians leaving the war were not “refugees” but “our guests, our brothers, our neighbors from Ukraine who are in a very difficult situation today.”

Oksana Kaimich, an associate professor of economics at Lviv Polytechnic National University, said of Anna Wisloka and her family, “We ended up with good people.Jacobia Tom for NBC News

Reflecting partial fears of Russian occupation and domination efforts, the Polish parliament passed a law on March 12 giving Ukrainians the right to stay in Poland for 18 months and access the country’s labor market and health care. Organization, Social Welfare and Education.

A spokesman for the Polish government said in an email last month that Poland should show solidarity with its Ukrainian neighbors “at every level.”

Poland has been preparing to accept the Ukrainians for weeks, and since the outbreak of war, it has opened all borders to its eastern neighbors, the spokesman said.

Too much to handle?

But some Polish mayors have already warned that their cities are overcrowded, and residents of Rzeszów, near the border, have also expressed concern.

Anna Slabos, who works at a stationery kiosk at the Hala Tarkova shopping mall in the city center, said there was “suffering and despair” when she saw Ukrainian mothers and children coming to her city, but she was also concerned about Poland’s national debt. Spends millions to help Ukrainian refugees.

“I think it will negatively affect us as a Polish nation,” said Slabos, 61.

She is also concerned about the number of health care systems.

“We are well aware of how our health system is,” Slabos said. “It can’t handle us as the Polish people, so what about these extra refugees?”

Volunteers offering free meals to Ukrainians arriving at Rzeszw’s central train station were also wondering how long the effort could continue.

Rzeszów is the largest city in southeastern Poland with a population of 200,000. Jacobia Tom for NBC News

Katarzyna Dybas broke down in tears, saying that residents were abandoning food and supplies for refugees and that it was making everyone emotional.

“Refugees are crying, we are crying,” said Typhos, 34.

Her fellow volunteer, Magdalena Rogita, was concerned that there were already no houses in the city to accommodate the newcomers.

“At some point, such a situation could upset the balance in the region,” said Rokita, 58. “This balloon will eventually burst.”

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