More than 4.16 million refugees from Ukraine have crossed the Polish-Ukrainian border since the beginning of Russia’s aggression against the country. The situation, expectations, and needs of this group are gradually changing. New problems are emerging, and it is time for more comprehensive assistance, say activists of the ADRA Poland Foundation, which has been supporting refugees from Ukraine since the first day of the war. In the beginning, a large group of refugees planned to return home quickly, but today, they are more likely to think about a long-term stay in Poland.
Refugees report such psychological difficulties as feelings of guilt, meaninglessness, aggression, insecurity and the need to support their children with their own limited resources. July will be difficult for war refugees from Ukraine due to the expiration of government aid and the tourist season. Comprehensive and specialized support is needed to help them recover from war trauma, find their way in the job market, and assimilate into Polish society.
The ADRA Poland Foundation helps Ukrainian citizens affected by the war through humanitarian transports, evacuations, cash assistance, running refugee shelters, and psychological assistance. Initially, people who were completely surprised by the war were the majority. It was not uncommon for the people we were helping to leave the house with one bag and the set of clothes they were wearing. Surprised by the occurrences, in a state of shock, focused on managing to escape the danger, they had no time to plan what to do next. Our first help to such people was to provide accommodation and equipment with necessities, evacuation from Ukraine, and support at the border, reports Karol Templin, manager of the project “Comprehensive support for refugees from Ukraine,” which the ADRA Poland Foundation organizes in partnership with the charity organization CARE.They wanted to return; now they want to stay longer.
ADRA Poland organizes humanitarian transports with in-kind aid (food, medical supplies, and hygiene products), evacuation of people, and psychological assistance, and runs nearly 50 shelters for refugees. To date, it has transported 1,167 people from Ukraine to Poland. Last week, they successfully evacuated 41 residents of Mykolayiv, located right on the front line. After more than 1,000 kilometers traveled, the Ukrainian residents reached Rzeszow and Warsaw. Those who needed shelter found it at the ADRA Poland shelter in Warsaw. More than 2,000 people have so far benefited from shelters run by ADRA, 64 percent of whom were women (including girls) and 38 percent were minors.
Nowadays, people mainly interested in long-term residency apply to our centers. They have plans to find permanent, legal work, stay in our country for six months, a year, or longer, and have their children attend educational institutions. The accommodation we offer in the shelters is to help them find work and future housing. Ultimately, they plan to rent an apartment, reports Elżbieta Krzynówek, regional coordinator of the ADRA Poland Foundation.
Refugees’ perceptions of the immediate future have changed. At first, I mainly heard, “The war will soon be over; I will return home in a while.” Gradually, the situation changed. Refugees establish relationships with each other and their Polish neighbors, become part of the community, find jobs, and plan to stay longer, especially if they come from areas devastated by the war and “have nothing to go back to.” In contrast, people from Western Ukraine very often set their sights on a quick return home, adds Renata Karolewska, regional coordinator at the ADRA Poland Foundation. Find sense, fight guilt, and help your child and yourself.
Satisfying basic needs opens up space to address other issues. In addition to the general adaptation challenges of finding oneself in a new situation in a foreign country and a lack of language skills, each person has been individually affected by the tragedy of war, including through the death of someone close to them, separation, and loss of housing or work, explains Ukrainian-born psychotherapist Roksana Korulczyk. She is one of four Ukrainian psychologists who provides psychological and informational assistance to Ukrainian refugees as part of the ADRA Poland Foundation’s Help Ukraine (GrupaWsparcia.pl) initiative.
Roksana, Kateryna, Alyona, and Yulia are on duty by phone and in chat rooms and post expert advice on the platform. Currently, we are most often approached by refugee women and those asking how they can find a sense of security again. They ask why they react to the same situations differently than before and how to regain a sense of purpose in their lives after losing everything. They often struggle with guilt, though they don’t know from where it comes. They wonder how to manage their aggression, which is natural in their situation, and how they can help their children with ongoing difficulties and find the strength to help when they don’t have the strength to help themselves–explains a psychologist from Help Ukraine.
Our coordinators often see doubts and reluctance to reach out for help. This is a result of the difficult experience at the beginning of the war and the rather common belief in Ukrainian society that psychological help is something stigmatizing and reserved for “mentally ill” people, adds the Ukrainian psychologist.
July Will Be Tough
July will be a rough month for Ukrainian citizens who fled the war to Poland. The period in which those hosting them are entitled to reimbursement for their stay (zł40 per person per night) is coming to an end. Rental prices for housing are rising, and the tourist season will make it more difficult to find accommodations as resorts and hotels will take tourists. Women with children in their care need support to find their way in the labor market in Poland, says Karol Templin, manager of the project “Comprehensive Support for Refugees from Ukraine”.
That is why the ADRA Poland team has launched a direct cash assistance project for refugees in need who have not yet benefited from such assistance. ADRA coordinators are currently traveling all over Poland and collecting applications from people who need financial support. As part of this activity, by October 2022, the foundation plans to support about 2,000 people. Beneficiaries of the program will receive an amount of zł710 for the first person in the family and zł610 for other family members. The financial assistance will be paid for a minimum of three months.
Time for Integration
The ADRA Poland Foundation is also setting up Integration Centres for Foreigners, places of comprehensive assistance with expert support in the fields of psychology, legal advice, learning the Polish language, and even relaxing massage. Many refugees will stay with us longer. This is why we need comprehensive and specialised support to help them recover from the traumas of war, as well as facilitate training, learning the language, finding their way in the labour market, and assimilating into Polish society, concludes Karol Templin. Centres will be set up in, among other places, Warsaw, Lublin, and Katowice. At a later phase, ADRA plans to open further centres in other parts of the country.
ADRA Poland Foundation, is a charitable public benefit organisation established in 2009. It is the Polish branch of the international ADRA Foundation, currently operating in 118 countries. Its goal is to help people in need through activities in the fields of education, health, organising livelihoods, as well as development and humanitarian aid in disaster-stricken regions. The international nature of the organisation allows it to act quickly and effectively. Since the first day of the war in Ukraine, the foundation has been supporting the victims by organising humanitarian transports and purchasing the necessary materials and vans to distribute aid in Ukraine. ADRA Poland, with the support of CARE, runs 48 aid points for refugees from Ukraine located throughout Poland. ADRA also runs HelpUkraine. a platform with a support phone line and 24/7 chat, offering psychological support and information. For more information, visit www.adra.pl.