In the last month millions of Ukrainians have fled, seeking refuge where they can. As of the 22nd of March, Krakow is housing 100,000 and Warsaw is housing 300,000. Other cities in Poland are housing over a million more between them. Denmark has agreed to take 10,ooo and many others have gone to Hungary, the Netherlands, Slovakia, Czechia and Germany. This has been a historic feat for Europe.
Some less charitable sorts have noted that countries that are usually less-than-welcoming to those seeking asylum have opened their arms to Ukrainians. Naturally, race and “Islamophobia” are listed as the reasons by the likes of the Guardian and others. The same culprits have also noted that European countries are waving Ukrainians through but refusing admission to visa holders from third countries.
In such situations it’s best to ignore the regular culprits and analyse the situation dispassionately. When looking at Ukrainian refugees, the first thing to note is that they’re actually Ukrainian. They identify themselves using either their Ukrainian passports or their Ukrainian national ID cards. Both are valid for travel in Europe. Ukrainians do not need a visa to travel in the Schengen zone. Already, we can see a major difference. Beyond that, the demographics of those Ukrainians are very different to past waves. Ukrainians entering European countries seeking refuge are women, children and the elderly. None are young, fighting-age adult men.
As you can see, there are profound differences in the nature and character of this wave of humanity as compared to previous ones. Perhaps yet another variable should be pointed out. Due to the speed with which Ukrainian refugees have had to flee, finding housing has been an issue. They have been housed in defunct schools, hotels and resorts. Sometimes they have been housed in cities, sometimes in the countryside. Many have been housed be friends and relatives living elsewhere in Europe. My Russian teacher is currently living with an old friend in Germany. She might stay with another friend who owns a small flat in Sweden if this drags on too long. My therapist who lives in Lombardy told me that many Ukrainians who have been living in northern Italy have welcomed Ukrainian refugees into their homes. Something you don’t hear from them is complaints. There is none of the “What? What do you mean I have to live in a cabin in Norrland? I want to live in Stockholm and I want to know when my new Volvo will arrive”. There is none of the “Hey, this old school in Saxony is drafty and isolated. I want to live in Berlin and why do I have to take the bus? Why can’t I have a Mercedes”? that many in previous waves thought was their due.
They are not asking for handouts and they’re not shopping for countries that give them better benefits. To this point, many have gone to work and have made themselves useful. Those staying near farms often help on the farm to keep their hands and minds occupied. In Denmark, many are signing up to work in care homes to fill critical shortages — especially in the provinces. Although some, especially in Poland which has absorbed two million on its have noted that it has been a challenge. Many have health problems — physical and mental stemming from the conflict. What they’re not complaining about is the people themselves. Well, very few at any rate and Poles are adept at the art of having a moan.
As for those citizens of third countries being turned away at the borders… That tensions were brewing and that a conflict was potentially imminent has been known for some time. The Indian Ministry of External Affairs, the United States Department of State and the Nigerian Ministry of Foreign Affairs have all warned their citizens in Ukraine to prepare to evacuate if not to evacuate. It is, ultimately, the responsibility of their own countries to ensure their safe evacuation. Ukrainians are in their own country and they are fleeing because they have little choice. Third country citizens are in Ukraine on their own volition and they have another country to return to. As I explained to my landlady (a good-natured, cheerful and warm-hearted American woman — they do exist), if the United States fell into civil war, she could seek refuge in Canada but I’d have no choice but to head to Europe as I hold a BRD-issued passport and I am ultimately their responsibility.