By Karol Badohal and Miguel Pereira
WARSAW/PRZEMYSL, Poland – Hundreds of Ukrainians waited in front of Poland’s national stadium to register for work permits on Monday as governments and businesses across central Europe sought to help refugees who have fled Russia’s invasion find jobs and school places.
Poland has taken in the largest number of refugees, some 2.1 million, since the start of the war on Feb. 24. Its pre-war Ukrainian community of around 1.5 million had already represented the region’s largest.
Tatiana Shmaliy stood in line with friends at the stadium in Warsaw where the national soccer team plays, seeking documents that will allow them to work until they can return home.
“People have been very good about accommodating us but finding work is difficult. We are looking for any job,” said Shmaliy, who works as a beautician in her home town of Vinnitsya in central-western Ukraine.
Most Ukrainians fleeing the war have passed through border points into Poland, Slovakia, Romania and Hungary, all members of the European Union, U.N. refugee agency data shows.
Border authorities reported that the number of refugees crossing into the EU continued to ebb on Monday, though they warned of a further surge in arrivals if the fighting escalates.
“In recent days there has been a decline in people who come to Poland,” Deputy Minister of Internal Affairs Paweł Szefernaker said in a radio interview.
“But we know that due to Russia’s aggression, another wave of refugees may come to us at any moment and we must be prepared.”
The U.N. refugee agency says some 10 million Ukrainians – in a total population of around 45 million – have been displaced by the war, including 3.4 million – mostly women and children – who have fled abroad, mostly to EU member states.
The EU’s migration commissioner, Ylva Johansson, warned on Monday of risks that some refugee children could be trafficked. Ukraine has a high number of orphans and children born through surrogate mothers who have not been picked up by their parents, she said.
Schools around the region have begun integrating Ukrainian children in classes and companies have sought to offer work to new arrivals but many refugees do not speak the local languages.
In Romania, where more than 500,000 Ukrainians have fled, a large recruiting platform has introduced a “Ukrainian friendly jobs” tag on its online platform and allows companies to post positions free of charge.
Ukrainians who have fled to the Czech Republic can be hired without a work permit from Monday as long as they have a special visa. The Interior Ministry has issued more than 205,000 such visas in a country now hosting some 270,000 refugees.
Russian forces advancing on the Ukrainian capital Kyiv from the northeast have stalled, British intelligence said on Monday, as Ukraine rejected Moscow’s calls for defenders to lay down their arms in the besieged city of Mariupol.
Moscow says its “special military operation” aims to disarm Ukraine and rid it of dangerous nationalists. The West say President Vladimir Putin launched an aggressive war of choice against a democratic state that posed no threat to Russia.
Speaking after arriving at the Medyka crossing, Poland’s busiest along the country’s some 500-km (310-mile) border with Ukraine, refugees on Monday told of bombings and aerial attacks as they fled but vowed to return home as soon as possible.
“I will work for a while and then we’ll see,” said Natasha, 46, who came from Ukraine’s Poltava region. “And when it’s quiet… I will go back to Ukraine. We’ll build Ukraine back, what else can we do? My son and my husband stayed there.”
(Additional reporting by Alicja Ptak in Waraw, Luiza Ilie in Bucharest and Jason Hovet in Prague, Writing by Michael Kahn, Editing by Gareth Jones)