WARSAW – Hoping to restore some normality after fleeing war in Ukraine, thousands of refugees lined up in the Polish capital of Warsaw on Saturday to get ID cards that will allow them to get on with their lives – at least for the moment.
Refugees began lining up outside Warsaw’s National Stadium overnight to get the coveted PESEL ID cards that will allow them to work, live, go to school and get healthcare medical or social benefits for the next 18 months. Yet by mid-morning many were asked to come back another day, the demand was too high even though the Polish authorities had simplified the process.
“We are looking for a job now,” said Kateryna Lohvyn, 30, who was queuing with her mother, adding that it had taken her some time to recover from the shock of the Russian invasion.
“We don’t know (what to do) yet,” she added. “But we are grateful to the Poles. They welcome us fantastically.”
Maryna Liashuk said Poland’s warm welcome already made her feel at home. If the situation gets worse, Liashuk said she would like to stay in Poland permanently with her family.
“If the war is over and there is a place to go back to, we will. And if not, we will just stay here,” Liashuk said.
Poland has so far hosted more than 2 million refugees from Ukraine – the bulk of more than 3.3 million people who the UN says have fled since Russia invaded Ukraine. February 24. Hundreds of thousands more have also flocked to Hungary, Slovakia, Moldova and Romania.
Most of the refugees fleeing Ukraine are women and children, as men between the ages of 18 and 60 are not allowed to leave the country and have stayed to fight.
Polish authorities said more than 123,000 refugees had received ID numbers – including more than 1,000 every day in Warsaw – since the program was launched on Wednesday.
Svetlana, a Ukrainian from Ivano-Frankivsk who has lived and worked in Poland for more than 10 years, brought relatives to Poland. She said receiving Polish ID numbers would make a huge difference for all Ukrainians.
“It’s really so important to us that we can officially look for work, send the kids to school and be active here,” Svetlana said. “It really changes the way we feel here.”
Refugees can receive a one-time allowance of 300 zlotys ($70) per person and a monthly allowance for each child under 18 of 500 zlotys ($117). Those who find a job will have to pay taxes like Polish workers.
Pavlo Masechko, a 17-year-old from Novovolynsk in the Volyn region of western Ukraine, is trying to rebuild his life in the city of Rzeszow in southeastern Poland. Before the war, Masechko intended to come to Poland to study after finishing high school, but he says being kicked out of his country by the war is something completely different.
“It’s so stressful to leave your country at this time like this,” said Masechko, who has joined a local school in Poland since arriving. Now Masechko’s Ukrainian teacher is looking to run online classes that were suspended when Russia attacked.
“When the situation started, it was very difficult for me to focus on other things. But time has passed and now the situation is more stable and stable in my head too,” he said. “I started to focus on other things in my life again.”
Many Ukrainian refugees have since moved to other countries in Europe, mainly to stay with friends and family. Some, however, have chosen to return home even as an end to the conflict is nowhere in sight.
Among them was Viktoria, 41, who was waiting with her teenage daughter Alisa on Saturday to board a train for Zhitomir in central Ukraine.
“The last five days it’s been quiet,” Viktoria said. “Our local authorities are fine. They have prepared everything for us there so that we can return to work, have a normal life and the children can have an education online.”
Alisa said she was not afraid to return and wanted to reunite with the rest of the family who are still in Ukraine.
“My loved ones are there,” she said.
Follow AP’s coverage of the Ukraine crisis at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine
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