Just over a week following the outbreak of war in Ukraine, the UNHCR has reported over 1,045,459 people have fled to neighbouring countries, including Poland, Slovakia, Hungary, Moldova, Romania as well as Bulgaria, with the hope of finding safety for themselves and their loved ones during a time of intense violence and uncertainty.
In response, Caritas staff and volunteers throughout eastern Europe are working tirelessly to go out and meet thousands of refugees fleeing Ukraine, providing them with food, medicine and temporary accommodation in spite of a highly volatile and dangerous situation.
“Something has to be done to stop this tragedy,” said Zlata, a photographer from Kyiv who woke up to the sound of an explosion on the morning of February 24. She is one of 400,000 Ukrainian refugees who have fled to Poland to escape the danger of destructive air raids and ongoing fighting in the country following the invasion. Caritas Poland has been closely coordinating with the government, NGOs and its local diocese partners. “Tents of hope” have also been set up at the border crossings of Przemysl, Zosin, Hrebenne, Lubaczow and Dorohusk, where arrivals find the option to rest, receive food, tea, coffee, warm clothes, hygiene items, medicines.
In Slovakia, around 70,000 Ukrainians have crossed the border and Caritas staff and volunteers from four dioceses are preparing efforts to coordinate their response to meet the refugee crisis.
While in neighbouring Romania, where border police have reported the entry of 45,000 refugees from Ukraine, Caritas continues to set up a number of refugee centres in various cities to offer accommodation, meals as well as transportation for beneficiaries. Caritas Romania is also inviting refugees to remain vigilant about individuals who propose transportation and private accommodation to refugees. There have been signs of organised crime active on both sides of the border, and the risk of human trafficking is high.
Caritas Moldova is working with local authorities and parishes to reach as many of the 65,000 refugees who have crossed the border by offering food, water, hygiene packs as well as social and emotional assistance to hundreds of people, particularly women and children, in government refugee centres in Chisinau, Ocnita and Palanca. Caritas staff and volunteers hope to open crisis centres in additional locations as needed and capacity allows.
Caritas Czech Republic is also focusing on helping refugees from Ukraine. The number of refugees in the country is around 25 000, but it will continue to increase in the coming days. Already before this crisis, there were many Ukrainian immigrants in the Czech Republic. Now efforts are being made to facilitate reunification with their families who fled Ukraine.
Caritas Czech Republic distributes food and clothes, but also other items such as mobile phone chargers, mobile phones, SIM cards. It is also helping refugees to find safe accommodation. Caritas staff is also helping refugees to apply for visas and some documents they need. The counselling centres for foreigners are now working hard, and they focus especially on Ukrainians.
Caritas Hungary, in cooperation with Caritas Diocese of Nyíregyházi and Caritas Diocese of Debrecen-Nyíregyháza, welcomes refugees at the border crossing Barabás-Mezőkaszony. Here people fleeing Ukraine can rest in a warm place until relatives come to pick them up or they reach a reception station, from where they are directed to accommodation. The refugees include Ukrainians, but also people of other nationalities who were in Ukraine when the war broke out. Meanwhile, Caritas staff and volunteers in Bulgaria, through its three diocesan offices in Sofia, Rusa and Vitana, are supporting arriving families, women and children with housing, food and hygiene items, and psychosocial assistance.