Belgium (Brussels Morning Newspaper) As the war in Ukraine reaches its first anniversary with no end in sight, millions have been forced to flee their homes and seek refuge in the EU and neighboring countries since the start of the conflict last Feb. 24.
The escalation of the conflict and the destruction of civilian infrastructure and the country’s economy forced millions to flee Ukraine and seek shelter, safety, and better living conditions first in neighboring countries and then in the rest of Europe.
The number of refugees from Ukraine across the whole of Europe has surpassed 8 million, according to UN figures this February.
Nearly 5 million Ukrainian refugees have registered for the European Union’s temporary protection or similar national protection schemes in Europe.
Russia’s invasion has caused the biggest wave of refugees in Europe since the second world war. Up to 8m Ukrainians have been scattered across the continent. Many have even gone to Russia, though not all voluntarily. In smaller countries, such as Estonia, they have markedly boosted the population (see chart). Hundreds of thousands have gone farther afield, to America, Canada, Israel, and beyond. Millions more are displaced within Ukraine.
Europe has handled this influx much better than it did a similar, though a smaller, wave of migrants in 2015-16. For the first time, the EU has invoked the Temporary Protection Directive, which grants Ukrainians rights to residency and work for up to three years. The 4m or so who have registered under the are almost all women and children. They are spared the process of claiming asylum, which helps relieve stretched asylum systems.
But a year after the invasion, governments are lifting their eyes from the immediate emergency and beginning to think about the longer term. The biggest question they face is how to manage the integration of people who may wish to return home as soon as possible, but cannot know when that will be.
A breath of fresh air in these hard times is the work of some European politicians like MEP Vlad Gheorghe who in his action work on helping to resolve the troublesome situation. His immediate reaction to the emergency made an important impact and helped several hundred thousand Ukrainians so far.
MEP Gheorghe for Brussels Morning says over a 12-months period, the group had 165,272 posts, 782,511 comments, 4,696,539 reactions, and 31,035,560 users saw the ongoing discussions. The Romanian MEP who created the group mentioned that this is the second largest aid community for Ukrainians in Europe, after a similar one in Poland, a country with twice the population of Romania.
Gheorghe reviews Romanian volunteers’ activity since February 24th last: they opened their homes to Ukrainians fleeing their bombed cities, they transported Ukrainians from the borders in their personal cars or bought them train and plane tickets, took Ukrainian animals to the vet, gave mothers, children and the elderly clothes, food, and even money.
“The Romanians stayed up nights to welcome mothers and children who fled from the bombs. They sent donations across the borders, from tonnes of flour for the bread of those left under the bombs to food for the animals in the shelters. Romanians baptized babies born on Romanian soil and ‘adopted’ Ukrainian families at holiday meals. In return, Ukrainians organized litter-collecting campaigns, wrote wishes for Romania’s National Day, thanked Romanian hosts with traditional products, drawings and crafts,” Vlad Gheorghe summarized.
“We were the first to help our Ukrainian neighbors: the group mobilized amazingly and we had volunteers in all border crossings, train stations, and events at the airports. There were 1,756 posts, 7,768 comments, and 45,587 reactions per group only on the first day of the war. On February 26, the number of posts had increased almost 10 times, to 16,254, and most cases were solved instantly on the group. Simple citizens organized perfectly way before the Romanian Government. During the first days of the war, already thousands of people registered as interpreters and volunteers offering accommodation, transport, donations of products, and money from both Romania and Romanians living abroad. Also, the group moderators were volunteers from all over the world, Romanians living in New Zeeland or Canada, keeping the community clean and secure at all times,” pointed out the young MEP.
Gheorghe is one of the most outspoken MEPs supporting Ukraine. He proposed a Rebuild Ukraine Fund, and insists on a freeze & seizure of assets mechanism on Russian oligarchs and diplomats saying ”European citizens cannot pay for Putin’s crimes and destruction, Kremlin must be held accountable”. Gheorghe, a lawyer, is also a big supporter of the EPPO and wants a European Green Prosecutor to fight environmental crime in all of the Member States.