Taisiia Mokrozub took her infant son, separated from her husband, and joined an exodus to safety in Poland on March 8, nearly two weeks after Russia invaded Ukraine. She expected the war to end quickly and for her to return home by May.
But, with shelling near a nuclear power plant in her hometown of Zaporizhzhia and the front line so close, the 36-year-husband old’s has told her to stay in Poland with their now-11-month-old baby. She now wishes to return home by winter, hoping that Ukraine will have beaten Russia by then.
As the war enters its sixth month on Wednesday, hundreds of thousands of refugees have already returned to Ukraine. Others, on the other hand, are faced with the sobering realization that they will not be returning home anytime soon, if at all. Even in areas under Ukrainian control, many people would not feel safe with missiles falling even further from the front lines.
So they wait, longing for home and refusing to think too far into the future, for the end of a war that shows no signs of ending soon.
With the start of a new academic year, some parents are reluctantly enrolling their children in schools abroad, concerned that they will fall behind. Others accept jobs that are beneath their skill level. Because the majority of refugees are women, those with very young children, such as Mokrozub, are frequently unable to work.
Russia’s invasion has resulted in Europe’s largest refugee crisis since World War II. According to the UN refugee agency, one-third of Ukrainians have fled their homes, with over 6.6 million displaced within the country and another 6.6 million displaced across the continent.
However, European countries have welcomed them without the political backlash that has accompanied previous influxes of refugees from the Middle East and Africa.
Poland has taken in the greatest number of Ukrainians, with an estimated 1.5 million registering for national ID numbers that allow them to receive social benefits. Germany, which does not require visas for Ukrainians, has registered over 900,000, though it is unclear how many have returned home or gone elsewhere.
For many of the refugees, Poland’s Slavic language and culture are comforting and familiar. Because of the country’s proximity to Ukraine, it is possible to return for brief visits with husbands and fathers who are unable to leave due to the war effort.
The influx of so many people has exacerbated an already-existing housing crisis in Warsaw, where rental prices have risen by 30% in the last year, as well as in other cities that have attracted a large number of refugees.
Hundreds of thousands of Polish families welcomed Ukrainians, many of whom were strangers, into their homes in the early days of the war. There was never a need for refugee camps because of that hospitality, according to Oksana Pestrykova, who runs a consultation center at the Ukrainian House in Warsaw, a social center for immigrants.
But what were supposed to be brief stays have turned into extended ones, and some Poles are now calling the center’s hotline to request assistance from Ukrainian speakers in telling their guests it’s time to leave.
Siemens, a global technology company, transformed office space at its Polish headquarters into hotel-style accommodations for nearly 160 people, which are managed by the Warsaw city government. The facility is clean, with free food and laundry facilities.
Ludmila Fedotova, a 52-year-old shop assistant from Zaporizhzhia, is among those who have moved there. She is terrified about what is going on at home, but she can rest easy knowing she has a place to live and food to eat while she looks for work.
While there may not be enough housing for all of the newcomers, there are more than enough jobs in a post-communist economy. Ukrainian immigrants who have recently arrived in Poland are sometimes the ones who help the newcomers find work and a place to live.
Oleh Yarovyi, originally from Khmelnytskyi in western Ukraine, moved here six years ago and has since established a coffee shop franchise with his wife. As they expand, he has lost some Ukrainian men helping with construction who returned to fight in the war, but he has been able to hire Ukrainian women who can use their language in a job they hope is temporary.