Today, June 20, marks the annual World Refugee Day, for which countries and organizations across the world acknowledge and debate the ongoing traumas affecting displaced civilians. This year, understandably, the main focus has been placed on the plight of millions of Ukrainians.
The day was first established in 2001, in recognition of the 50th anniversary of the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees.
The ongoing Russian invasion of Ukraine has led to over 5 million Ukrainian citizens leaving the country, with 3.4 million applying for temporary asylum in foreign countries, latest estimates from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees suggests. In total, more than 13 million Ukrainians are understood to have fled their homes, with eight million thought to be displaced inside Ukraine itself.
Poland has taken in the highest number of Ukrainian men, women and children, with the current figure approaching 1.2 million. Neighboring nations such as Romania, Moldova, and Slovakia, also continue to welcome their fair share, while Belarus – perhaps due to its government’s affiliations with Russia – has seen only 8,000 Ukrainians cross its border.
Refugees’ main needs include food, shelter and general healthcare – services that charities and governments are working around the clock to provide.
In the U.K, special grants are being given to newly established charity organizations, with an emphasis on encouraging British citizens to offer space in their homes to Ukrainian arrivals. For this, British hosts can claim £350 per month from local authorities once various validation checks have been completed.
“It was not easy,” Luhansk resident Volodymyr, who is currently living with a British host in Kent, told Ukrainian news site Pik. “When the war broke out, our city was under siege. The first week we hid in the basement. Then they realized that it was impossible to sit there.”
He added: “I’ll be honest, when we came [to the U.K.] trying to save our children from the war, I thought we would stay here. But I started to miss my home in Ukraine. I want to eventually come back. Now we have plans to return as soon as it’s safe.”
Ukraine’s border force has seen Ukrainian nationals crossing back into the country at a rate of about 30,000 a day, with many returning to Kyiv. Mayor Vitali Klitschko confirmed that the city’s population was now back to two-thirds of its pre-war level.
Among returning Ukrainians is journalist Oksana Kaminska who, along with her mother, has come back to her hometown of Ivano-Frankivsk.
“Like many other people, I didn’t feel safe when Russia began bombing Ukraine – particularly when their missiles hit targets in the neighboring city of Lviv. So I went to live with a nice family in a village in Southern England. They were very supportive and welcoming, and made it so that I didn’t feel uncomfortable. Luckily, I speak the English language – but I can imagine that it must be tougher for Ukrainian refugees who do not speak the native language of their host’s country.”
“It is difficult for anyone to leave their home, and I’d be lying if I said that it wasn’t hard. Eventually I decided I wanted to come home. I have a life here, a successful career, my friends and family. It was nice being in my own apartment again, in my own bed, and getting back on with life.”
“Today, ‘World Refugee Day’, is important. It’s a time to remember the troubles that so many are going through, in Ukraine, but also across the world. My advice to other people leaving Ukraine is not to be frightened or worried, and to understand that it isn’t forever – eventually, like me, you will return and life will carry on as usual”.
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