Saturday, May 7, 2022

From VIP boxes in stadiums to animal care, Europe’s cities are preparing to welcome refugees from Ukraine

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I look at how various EU cities have struggled to welcome Ukrainian refugees warmly and safely despite their already stretched budgets

From sleeping in the VIP box of a former football stadium to taking care of their pets for free, residents in cities across Europe have offered an incredible welcome to millions of Ukrainians fleeing the war, while at the same time giving them a new sense of purpose and purpose found unity.

Eurocities President Dario Nardella said Europe had shown the “most impressive” solidarity since World War II, with the war in Ukraine “opening Europe’s eyes to the plight of refugees”.

With more than 5.7 million people arriving in the European Union (EU) since Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24, I looked at how cities already hit by the Covid-19 crisis have further increased their budgets to launch extraordinary initiatives for Ukrainian refugees.

Rzeszow, a city in Poland just 100 km from Ukraine, has been at the forefront of responding to the crisis, with a 24-hour aid point serving Ukrainians fresh from their war-torn country drinks and food provided. They have also created a multilingual brochure providing comers with important contacts and phrases in both Ukrainian and Polish.

According to Katharina Bamberg, policy adviser on migration and integration at Eurocities – a 200-strong network of EU cities in 38 countries – the city also offers free help for refugees’ pets, as it is believed they “can be similar to family”. .

While praising the “pan-European” show of solidarity towards Ukrainians, Ms Bamberg highlighted Ukraine’s neighboring countries, whose response was “impressive” as they had taken in the lion’s share of the refugees.

In Kraków A total of 177,500 people, including 42,000 children, had arrived in one town in southern Poland alone, which borders the Czech Republic, at the end of last month. Former medical buildings, shopping malls and sports complexes have been converted into dormitories to accommodate refugees, while residents also volunteer to take in people at home. Some of the newcomers are already employed, while 6,400 children have already been placed in kindergartens, primary and secondary schools.

Emilia Król, Communications Officer of the City of Kraków, tells the story I that it would have taken 12 brand new schools to accommodate that number, but there was no time and existing schools had to prepare “overnight” to make room. Preparatory classes were also introduced to help non-Polish speaking students settle in.

Special hotlines for people traumatized by war offer advice for students and parents.

Kraków has also partnered with World Central Kitchen to provide hot meals to refugees at various locations around the city. There is also a free clothing store known as Szafa Dobra or Good Wardrobe, while public transport is free for Ukrainians.

Kraków also has the City Employment Agency, which aims to speed up legal procedures for foreigners to work in Poland, while the Multicultural Center, operational since March 2021, provides legal, psychological and practical support

“It is very refreshing to see local administrations working with civil society and volunteers to make this reception possible. It was a beautiful movement and shot,” said Ms. Bamberg.

Because Romania Since it shares the longest border with Ukraine, thousands of refugees have been pouring into the country every day since the war broke out on February 24.

Ms. Bamberg praised the city’s efforts Timisoara which has become a hub due to its airport and train connections. According to a post on the Eurocities website, “anyone who decides to stay will get help.”

The city responds to the needs of refugees through the Timisoara for Ukraine Campaign – a network of 30 organizations and more than 300 volunteers who help with housing, food, social vouchers, training support or job search.

Timisoara for Ukraine works with hotels and large buildings such as universities to convert them into dormitories so that people have a safe place to sleep. Other efforts include teams of a social worker and a psychologist conducting home checks on citizens who have offered to take someone in to ensure they are safe and warm.

The Tuscan City Florence, in central Italy, has already seen the arrival of more than 2,000 refugees, according to its mayor. Mr Nardella, who is not only head of Eurocities but also mayor of Florence, said the Tuscany region had absorbed 10,000 residents, while the total in Italy had reached 160,000.

Mr. Nardella points out two outstanding initiatives. The first was raising €200,000 (£171,000) for the Kyiv Red Cross, organized by the Florence Red Cross.

Mr Nardella also managed to get Italy’s national airline Ita Airways to lend them a cargo plane to deliver 15 tonnes of aid to Ukraine. Then, thanks to a collaboration between Save the Children, the Red Cross, Unicef ​​​​and an orphanage in Florence, 21 Ukrainian orphans were placed on the same plane and given a new home in Florence.

A total of 81 children have already been placed in schools, while others prefer to study from home as there is still hope that they will be able to return to Ukraine soon, the mayor said.

“Our city has a great tradition of international solidarity, we have always had great hospitality and have always been very open, including politically, we have always been very sensitive,” said Mr. Nardella.

“For us, helping Ukrainians means being ourselves, doing what we have always done, it makes us feel worthy of our city’s heritage.”

In Leiriain central Portugal, the VIP boxes of the football stadium used for the Euro 2004 have been converted into shelters, now housing 50 refugees.

The pictures show the boxes of the Estádio Dr. Magalhães Pessoa, equipped with both single and double beds, overlooking the green lawn. Much of the equipment was donated by local businesses.

Speaking of the fact that Leiria was one of the first municipalities in the country to go to the border and help Ukrainians resettle, Social Action Councilor Ana Valentim said the main objective was to “get people out of a war context,” but the fact that there a strong community of Ukrainians in the city also contributed to their actions.

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