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Warsaw’s quiet metamorphosis

Five weeks after the start of the Russian offensive in Ukraine and the arrival of more than two million refugees in Poland, the atmosphere in Warsaw is like that of the Gare de l’Est, the first point of arrival of exiles in the city: the chaos of the first days of the conflict gave way to relative calm. The comings and goings of passers-by resumed almost as if nothing had happened, far from the scenes of dread that punctuated the place night and day at the beginning of March. However, two to three trains still arrive each day from kyiv, each disembarking several dozen passengers.

Ukrainian refugees at Warsaw Central Station on March 12, 2022.

In the hall of the station, among other welcome messages, a map of Poland informs in Ukrainian: “Small towns have better housing options, lower living costs, and better chances of finding work. Big cities are crowded. Don’t be afraid to head to the small towns: they are quiet, have good infrastructure and are well adapted. » A preventive message. Because, in the immediate future and for emergency situations, the reception capacity of the capital is far from being saturated.

Although it remains above all a city of transit, Warsaw has welcomed nearly 300,000 refugees since the beginning of the conflict, an increase of 17% in its population. Before the war, the Ukrainian language was already extremely common on the streets. Representatives of the Ukrainian community estimated that the diaspora could constitute up to 10% of the city’s population. Young Ukrainians, disappointed by the stagnation of their country after the 2014 revolution and the Donbass war, had come in large numbers to fill the shortage of labor in a Poland in a period of strong growth and economic prosperity.

Homestays

Since then, the additional 300,000 Ukrainians who came to seek refuge in Warsaw after the outbreak of the war have literally been absorbed by the agglomeration. Not a wild camp, homeless people: the diaspora has taken its responsibilities, and the outpouring of generosity of the population has made it possible to set up a system of homestays and free housing. As a result, the emergency accommodation managed by the authorities, town hall and region, is only half full.

Volunteers from Warsaw help Ukrainian refugees at Warsaw Central Station on March 23, 2022.

“We have a database of five thousand homes that the population has made available to refugees, said the spokesperson for the town hall, Monika Beuth-Lutyk. Only three hundred of them are occupied, because this rehousing procedure is not simple. We have to check the places first, so as not to send people just anywhere. We then have to make sure that they are self-sufficient, because then they leave the centers where they are taken care of free of charge. »

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