The West continues to welcome Ukrainian refugees, but challenges lie ahead News of war between Russia and Ukraine

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Berlin, Germany – When Lyu Azbel first heard about Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine last February, they were quick to react.

With professional and personal ties to the country, Azbel tried to find out if all their friends and workers were safe. They soon connected with one colleague, Olena Chernova, who was still in Kyiv.

A public health care researcher who has lived in Berlin for 10 years, told Al Jazeera by phone, “It was a very scary, scary time. I was worried about Olena’s safety. I managed to convince her to come to Berlin and she arrived one evening at the end of March, with only a small backpack. My toddler, who is not very shy at all, grabbed her. Today, she is part of our family.”

In the past year, Azbel, 36, has hosted nine Ukrainians in the two homes he and his family own in the German capital, including a family of four with two a dog that stayed for a week.

“They arrived in the early days so they managed to find housing quickly. They are a very sweet family and we have had them for dinner ever since.”

INTERACTIVE Refugees in Ukraine

They have also supported people by finding accommodation and getting kindergarten places.

And Ukrainians in Berlin are finding some good things in a difficult situation.

“One mother recalled being on an underground train and her daughter surrounded by these different characters. She says she was excited for her daughter to see this diversity from a very young age,” said Azbel, who plans to continue supporting the displaced in Germany.

Different experiences

But for Morgan Rodrick, a 49-year-old software engineer who is also in the German capital, his experience played out differently.

In the early days of the war, Rodrick was introduced to a man he knew as Sergey through another friend who had been his host.

Expecting a short stay, Rodrick invited Sergey to stay in his home while he moved temporarily to his partner’s flat.

Rodrick and his partner tried to help Sergey to register as a refugee and find his feet in the city.

Two weeks turned into over a month, and while staying longer wasn’t a problem for Rodrick, he encountered a few challenges in his efforts to support Sergey during his stay.

“My first assumption was that he would stay for a few weeks until he was enrolled in an official refugee program,” he told Al Jazeera.

“We tried to help him understand some of the official things using Google Translate, because everything was in German. And during that, it became clear to us that he did not want to be officially registered or recognized as a refugee. He saw himself as a businessman who got himself out of harm’s way for a while, hoping to go back to Ukraine soon after.”

Morgan Roderick
Rodrick, 49, says he will continue to support people displaced by the war in Ukraine [Giulio Ferracuti/Al Jazeera]

Without registering in the city as a refugee, Sergey could not access economic support or find work officially, so Rodrick tried to help.

“I intended to put him in touch with someone who could offer him a job as a driver but after I had a conversation with him about the job, it became clear to me that he has, as I would say, like old world values ​​regarding women.

“Since the friend who could have done some work for him was a woman, my partner and I realized that this might not go well, so we ended up not hooking up with them.”

Rodrick soon had to return home for work, and he gave Sergey some information about his plan.

“He came back to get stuff, apart from the bag I packed for him, and then he left. We haven’t heard since, it seems he’s gone out into the world.”

Help for those who are fleeing

The different experiences of Rodrick and Azbel speak more broadly about the different ways in which support for refugees in neighboring countries has evolved.

As the conflict began, there was an outpouring of support.

The Poles opened their doors to Ukrainians while the German national railway carried free Ukrainian passengers.

Almost 19 million people have crossed the border to other countries, especially Poland, Russia and Hungary. More than a million refugees from Ukraine were registered in Germany.

But the war has come at a cost to European citizens, who have seen energy prices rise to more than double in some households along with other living costs rising amid record inflation figures.

Germany’s decision, albeit reluctantly, to involve itself militarily by taking two of its tanks in January also drew protests.

Despite the economic toll, polls have suggested that although support for Ukrainian refugees has fallen slightly, it has remained high in the West.

One global survey conducted by Ipsos in January found that in almost 30 countries, including the US, Germany, Poland, the UK, Achar and France, despite a drop in support to welcome refugees in Germany and Belgium, that most Westerners still supported them. in.

Gabrielė Valodskaite, program assistant for the European region in general for the European Council for Foreign Relations in Berlin, said the commitment “is still there, but maybe less visible”.

“Now the support is more stable, more institutionalized and more effective. European, national or local institutions had to learn to deal with issues over time, and now the support is more stable”.

At the same time, Daria Krivonos, a post-doctoral researcher at the Department of Culture, Center of Excellence for Law, Identity and European Statements of the University of Helsinki, said that international international support has been ‘ decline.

“I was in Warsaw two or three months after the start of the attack, where I had joined a group of volunteers at the station,” she told Al Jazeera.

“Early on, it had become clear that the majority of these volunteers who provided assistance were Ukrainian nationals, many of whom had been living in Poland before latest promotion.

“At first, many people came to the border with Poland to provide basic help and support to refugees. But little by little this support from international networks began to fade away. And now the situation has changed as Ukrainian nationals are now the ones filling the gaps left by the lack of support from the states, larger NGOs, and groups of international volunteers . “

An elderly woman stands in front of a house destroyed after explosions in the village of Krasylivka, east of Kyiv
Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine has displaced millions of people from their homes [File: Aris Messinis/AFP]

Krivonos said that while there was a shared culture behind European support for the Ukrainians, parts of the debate about “Ukraine’s commitment” have been “a bit bold”.

“We cannot deny that the whiteness and European-ness of Ukraine played a big role, but in doing so, it meant that we did not look closely at the history of labor migration from the Ukraine, and how these working communities were. now those who receive the displaced. In many ways, this debate has been rather simplistic.”

Support ‘will not go away’

On February 24, tens of thousands of citizens took to the streets in 400 cities around the world, including Western European capitals such as Berlin, Warsaw and Paris, to the first to mark the anniversary of the war.

As the conflict unfolds, “there are many moving parts involved in supporting this support [for refugees] it can play out in the long run,” Valodskaite said.

“First of all, it will depend on how well European governments deal with energy costs, inflation and the overall economic situation in Europe as a result of the war. And then it comes down to how well the refugee issue is dealt with publicly. In terms of wider support, I think it may decrease or become less visible, but it will not go away, and I believe that European societies will continue to show strong support for people who flee from the war in Ukraine.”

He was willing to end the war, Rodrick said that his breakup with Sergey would not prevent him from supporting Ukraine that had been expelled from the war again.

“The whole experience opened my eyes to how different people’s experiences are, and how diverse they are,” he said.

“I didn’t understand Sergey’s reason for not wanting to be part of the asylum programs for refugees, or how much he had been through. The experience gave me a more detailed picture of the experiences of those affected by war.”

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