Ukraine, one in 5 people have left the country since the beginning of the war

Ukraine, one in 5 people have left the country since the beginning of the war


There are just over eight million refugees who fled from Ukraine and registered in Europe a year after the start of the Russian invasion, one in five, out of a total population of 43 million people. We are talking about women, children, the elderly: men are restricted and cannot leave the country. An exodus that began in the days immediately preceding the "special operation" launched by Moscow, when fears of an attack had begun to become insistent, and exploded in the days between February and March 2022. On the border with Poland and Romania , long columns of people slowly crossed the icy border, few belongings with them: a bag, some plastic bags, in many cases a pet. On the other side, an existence to be rebuilt awaits them.

Ukrainian refugees (photo by Antonio Piemontese)

The numbers

Two and a half million refugees are stopped in neighboring or closest countries, according to February 2023 data from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees: Poland, above all (1.5 million), the Czech Republic (485,000 people), Moldova and Romania (108,000 each ). But many, many ended up in Germany (which welcomed 1.05 million people). Far below are the other European countries: Italy (169,000), Spain and the United Kingdom (161,000 people each), France (118,000), Austria (92,000).

Rome handled the flow discreetly. Given the importance of numbers, a system has been set up that integrates the one normally provided for refugees and provides for various forms of complementary support. In the first instance it is up to the prefectures to check the availability of accommodation through the Cas network (Extraordinary Reception Centres); this is joined by the Sai network (welcome and integration system, the latter managed by local authorities).

The figures collected by Anci, the association of Italian municipalities, for differ negligibly from those of the United Nations. According to the institution (which takes data from the Civil Protection) 173,645 refugees who reached the boot after the Russian attack would be: 92,353 women, 49,444 minors, 31,848 men, as we said, mostly elderly. “ But the four thousand places made available by the Municipalities have not yet been refinanced ”, attacks the delegate for Immigration and mayor of Prato Matteo Biffoni. " From an economic-financial point of view, the expenses incurred by the Municipalities starting from 31 December are not based on any type of documentary reference - he continues - but on reassurances that we, in agreement with the Civil Protection and Ministry of the Interior, have take the risk of providing ”. In practice, in the absence of a formal commitment, the fear of the mayors is that the money will not arrive and the charges will remain on the municipal coffers.

Temporary protection

For those arriving from Ukraine since the beginning of the war, the government guarantees temporary protection until March 4, 2023, with a renewable decree for one year. This status ensures health care with the same protections as Italian citizens but also the possibility of carrying out subordinate work (including seasonal) or self-employment activities, attending a professional training course, carrying out an internship. The application is submitted through the police headquarters, which issue a tax code through which a dedicated platform can be accessed (here the handbook of the Civil Protection).

It is also possible to request a support contribution via the web and for their own children: 300 euros per month per adult up to a maximum of three months, with a supplement of 150 euros per month for each child.

Warsaw station, a sorting point for Ukrainian refugees, in the days immediately following the Russian invasion (photo: Antonio Piemontese)

Photo by Antonio Piemontese 

From the emergency to integration

But what is life like for a refugee twelve months after the Russian attack? It proceeds between difficulties and expectations, based on a solidarity that - a non-trivial fact - has never been lacking. We have already said about the government machine. Rainews 24, the national broadcaster's all-news channel, broadcasts a newscast in the Ukrainian language every day; but there are many local realities involved in reception that continue to provide support. Often, they are managed by compatriots well established in Italy, who can count on a consolidated network and make part of their free time available to help those arriving. It's about recreating a semblance of normality, solving practical problems, fueling the hope of a return.

"Children, for example, were immediately included in the Italian classes: but often, thanks to the internet, they also continue to follow the Ukrainian courses, because the parents don't want them to be left behind when they return to homeland ”, Ludmila Kostiv, head of the Milanese association Ukraine Più, tells, who has opened a small library in the Milanese district of Affori with texts in foreign languages ​​available to refugees. , between the pages, the scent of home. There is everything: fiction, non-fiction, reportage.  Also organize a psychological support service with professionals able to speak the language of refugees and a small Italian school, also available online 

In the uproar of recent months, some stories with happy endings have also passed through the rooms of the association: such as that of Serghei (invented name), a child from Černivci born with an important malformation ion. Forced to leave the hospital where he was treated from birth due to lack of antibiotics (intended for the front), what saved him was the intuition of his grandmother, who had been a caregiver for a long time in Castel San Giovanni, in the province of Piacenza. Desperate to save her nephew who would have been condemned without medicines and treatment, the woman, who returned to Ukraine a few months before the war in view of her retirement, thought of asking for help from the Emilian family with whom she had worked for many years. The spark ignited by a voice message on Whatsapp spread and involved doctors, journalists and volunteers. Within a few days, the child was transported to Milan in an ambulance and operated on in the halls of the Polyclinic by the team of professor Ernesto Leva, a pediatric surgeon. At the end of a six-month convalescence spent between the Milanese hospital, where he became the darling of the department together with his young mother, and the villa where his grandmother had worked, the newborn returned home in September. For him, by now, the doctors have prescribed only a few check-ups.

Women's problems

Notes of optimism fade a situation which, however, remains complex. The numbers are too large. “ The host countries have shown extraordinary solidarity - notes the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees - but the scale of the exodus continues to put the available services under great pressure. From 2023 we expect the focus of the response to shift from emergency to supporting governments in promoting the inclusion of refugees in national systems”. Most of them are women and children; and, since the first days of the escape, cases have been reported of women lured with false offers of help and then raped or even subjected to violence in assistance centres, as happened in Germany. A situation on which the United Nations has invited governments to pay close attention. And that recalls how cynicism can add up to the tragedy of war.

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