Ukraine’s refugees expected to return weeks after war

MEDYKA, Poland (AP) — As Russia began its war in Ukraine last month, weary and frightened refugees arrived in neighboring countries. They took whatever they could grab in a hurry. Many cried. They still do.

The United Nations says more than 3.6 million people have fled Ukraine since the war began just a month ago on Thursday, the largest movement of people in Europe since World War II. Unprepared, most of the refugees believed they would soon return home. That hope is now waning.

“At the beginning, we thought it would be over very soon,” said Olha Homienko, a 50-year-old woman from Kharkiv. “At first, no one could believe that Russia would attack us, and we thought it would be over quickly.”

Now, Homienko said, “as we can see, there is nothing to look forward to.”

Homienko’s hometown of Kharkiv is one of several Ukrainian cities and towns that have been besieged and heavily shelled by the Russians. Refugees arriving from besieged cities have told of devastation, death and hunger.

Natalia Lutsenko from the northern city of Chernihiv said she still thought the Russian offensive must be some kind of “misunderstanding”.

Lutsenko said she does not understand why Russian President Vladimir Putin causes so much suffering to the people of Ukraine.

“Why is he bombing peaceful houses? Why are there so many victims, blood, and slain children, body parts everywhere?” Lutsenko pleaded. “It’s so scary. Sleepless nights. The parents are crying, the kids are no more.”

After fleeing his home, Lutsenko comes to Medica, a small town on the border between Ukraine and Poland, where refugees have been arriving since the start of the invasion.

Medica Mayor Marek Iwaszko vividly remembers February 24, the first day of the war.

“That day was a big surprise for me. Suddenly a large number of people appeared in the medica,” Ivaszko recalled. “They were traveling for four days. They had come very tired, it was still cold, they were freezing.”

Although the Medica authorities had already prepared some facilities for the arrival of the refugees, the city was overwhelmed by thousands of people arriving at the same time and in need of shelter, food, medicines and, above all, warmth and comfort.

Iwasieczko also said that everyone believed at the last minute that war could be avoided.

“Everything was ready, even though we weren’t sure it would all be necessary, we didn’t know if a war would start, this would be Putin’s way of doing things,” he said. A month later, “we are dreaming about stabilization and the end of this situation … We are tired but we are going to help to the end.”

In a bid to ease tensions on countries accepting refugees, the European Union on Wednesday announced steps for its member states to help millions of refugees access their children, health care, housing and schools for work.

The measures are intended to help facilitate the movement of refugees between countries that may house them in the European Union and other countries, such as Canada and the United Kingdom, which already have large Ukrainian communities.

Most of the women and children – Ukrainian men aged 18 to 60 who have been banned from leaving the country and staying to fight – refugees seeking to rebuild their lives in neighboring countries, find jobs and start schools. is of. Some have moved to other countries where they have relatives.

In Medica, refugees are still arriving, though in smaller numbers and in warmer climates. On Wednesday, children were seen grabbing their favorite toys, women carrying children and people coming with their dogs, whom they refused to leave behind.

Lutsenko sat on her bed in a sports hall that had been converted into a refugee center, with dozens of beds in a central area. He also thought that the war would end in a few days.

“Nobody thought it would last so long, for a month.” he said. “I believe that Ukraine will win and I believe in my army. I still believe.”

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