“We didn’t even have time to get our things,” says Ukrainian refugee Ludmila Nikiforova, one of hundreds of people fleeing the brutal conflict on ferries from Poland to Sweden every day.
Since the beginning of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine three weeks ago, thousands of Ukrainians have arrived by sea in the towns of Trelleborg, Ystad, Karlskrona, and Nynashamn.
After disembarking in the spring sunshine of Nynashamn, a town an hour south of Stockholm, Ludmila and her two daughters pull their suitcases into the ferry terminal.
There, along with 500 other passengers, the majority of whom are women and children, they are greeted by volunteers eager to provide them with basic necessities. Water bottles, sandwiches, baby food, and sanitary products are piled high on nearby tables. For those fleeing with pets, there is even dog and cat food available.
A wall is lined with donated prams and strollers, and one table is covered with stuffed toys for children.
Ludmila and her daughters fled their home in Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city, on February 28 after Russia began shelling the city.
“The bombing began, and the air raid siren sounded. We hurriedly packed our belongings in preparation for the train “Ludmila, a shoe factory worker, tells reporters.
Anna, 20, and her 19-year-old sister Anastasia recall hearing explosions in the distance as they drove to the train station. “But it was far away from us, and we were fortunately not hit,” says Anna, a programmer.
“There were a lot of people at Kharkiv station. And there were even more people when we arrived in Lviv. We arrived at three o’clock in the morning and waited for a train to Poland in the street “She continues.
They had no idea where they were going after that.
They ultimately chose Sweden, a country once known for its generous refugee policy and which took in the most asylum seekers per capita in Europe during the 2015 migration crisis. According to the UN migration agency IOM, more than three million people have fled Ukraine since the beginning of the invasion, with 1.8 million of them fleeing to Poland.
So far, the ferry company Polferries has transported 5,600 Ukrainians from Poland to Nynashamn for free. Thousands more have been transported by other ferry lines.
Earlier this week, Sweden’s Migration Board estimated that at least 4,000 Ukrainian refugees were arriving in Sweden each day, with the true number likely much higher because not all were registered immediately upon arrival.
Long lines have formed outside the Migration Board’s offices throughout Sweden, with some advising people to leave and return another day.
Meanwhile, authorities are scrambling to set up reception centers and housing for tens of thousands of people expected. The Migration Board has developed planning scenarios to assist it in preparing for the arrival of 27,000 to 212,000 Ukrainians between March and June.
That figure would surpass the record 163,000 asylum seekers accepted by Sweden, a country of 10 million people, during the 2015 migration crisis.
Since then, the country’s migration policy has been tightened, citing the strain on its immigration and integration systems.
Among other things, it now only issues temporary residency permits.
Following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the Swedish government emphasized that EU countries must do more this time to share the burden. The future is uncertain for Ludmila, who has only recently taken her first breaths in Sweden. Her thoughts are still on the past and what she and her daughters have left behind.
“We lost our house, our jobs, our lives, and everything else we had. People build things, aspire to make or be something in their lives, but we lost everything.”