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A family from Ukraine passes through the final gate to Poland after they crossed the border point from Ukraine into Medyka, Poland in March 2022. PA
One Year On

Ukraine War: How countries across Europe are responding to the refugee crisis, one year on

The invasion of Ukraine sparked the largest refugee crisis in Europe since the Second World War.

EXACTLY ONE YEAR ago today, following weeks of speculation, the world woke up to the news that Russian President Vladimir Putin had launched an invasion of Ukraine. 

As missiles were reported across several Ukrainian cities, world leaders were quick to condemn the invasion and the EU swiftly imposed sanctions on Russia.

Despite global powers urging Putin to step back from the war, it soon became clear that the Russian president had no intention of ending his “special military operation”.

The invasion forced millions of Ukrainians to flee their homes, sparking the largest refugee crisis in Europe since the Second World War.

Civilians immediately made their way west, heading to neighbouring countries such as Poland, Hungary and Moldova in their cars, with some even going on foot. It is estimated that over 100,000 people fled their homes in the first day of fighting.

A week after the invasion, the European Council triggered its temporary protection directive. The directive, created in 2001 in response to the conflicts in former Yugoslavia, is designed to offer quick and effective assistance to people fleeing the war in Ukraine.

It allows all Ukrainian nationals living in Ukraine who were displaced on or after 24 February 2022 to live, work and study across the EU.

The directive also stipulates for access to suitable accommodation or housing, as well as access to social welfare or means of subsistence if necessary.

ukrainian-refugees-walk-along-vehicles-lining-up-to-cross-the-border-from-ukraine-into-moldova-at-mayaky-udobne-crossing-border-point-near-udobne-ukraine-saturday-feb-26-2022-the-u-n-refugee-a Ukrainian refugees walk alongside vehicles lining-up to cross the border from Ukraine into Moldova on 26 February. Alamy Stock Photo Alamy Stock Photo

As of 21 February, over eight million Ukrainian refugees have been recorded across Europe, according to figures from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

Of those, 4.8 million have registered for temporary protection or similar national protection schemes across the continent.

UNHCR data shows that Poland has taken in over 1.5 million Ukrainian refugees, the most of any other country in the EU. Germany is second with 881,000 Ukrainian refugees accommodated there, followed by Czech Republic with over 486,000.

Italy has recorded over 169,000 Ukrainian refugees, while Spain has recorded over 161,000. This is followed closely by the UK, with over 158,000 refugees being recorded there, and France, who has recorded over 118,000.

Refugees have also settled outside of Europe. Speaking in December, US President Joe Biden said the US had welcomed over 221,000 refugees from Ukrainian since last March, while over 140,000 Ukrainian nationals entered Canada in 2022.  

More than 70,000 Ukrainian refugees have arrived in Ireland since the war began, the majority of whom are being housed in temporary or emergency accommodation, including in hotels, sports halls, former religious buildings and tented accommodation.

However, the State has been struggling to source new accommodation in recent months, prompting Minister Roderic O’Gorman to issue an urgent appeal to find large buildings and facilities to house Ukrainians and those seeking international protection here.

Throughout the continent, many Ukrainians are housed in similar emergency accommodation as a first port of call before a more permanent residence can be found.

In Germany, over one million refugees have settled since the war began. But according to Deutsche Welle, the country is now facing a housing crisis, with a shortage of accommodation available to new arrivals. 

Refugees arriving from Ukraine are processed at a reception centre in Tegel Airport. It has a bed capacity of 1,600 for refugees, but is being expanded in order to accommodate over 3,000 refugees.

berlin-germany-01st-mar-2022-refugees-from-the-ukrainian-war-zone-wait-at-berlin-central-station-late-in-the-evening-an-estimated-300-people-arrived-in-berlin-by-train-numerous-volunteers-then Refugees from the Ukrainian war zone wait at Berlin Central Station. Alamy Stock Photo Alamy Stock Photo

Hotels and hostels are the main form of accommodation for Ukrainians arriving in Bulgaria, Cyprus and Ireland, according to a report by the European Migration Network (EMN). 

The report found that in Slovakia, the share of accommodation provided by private individuals was around 55% while in Latvia, it amounted to 66%.

In Germany, observations suggest that the share of private accommodation ranged from about 10% to 80%, depending on the municipality.

According to EMN, almost all EU member states provide financial allowances to beneficiaries of temporary protection, either through their national welfare packages or allowances specifically dedicated to refugees.

While most nations across Europe have accommodated thousands of Ukrainian refugees, The Journal has spoken to experts in Poland, Czech Republic and Norway about how refugees have settled in their respective countries. 

We focused on Poland and Czech Republic due to the high number of refugees there, as well as language similarities, while Norway was chosen because it has a similar population size to Ireland, it is not a member of the EU and it has less language and cultural similarities to Ukraine. 


At 1.5 million, Poland has taken in more Ukrainian refugees than any other country in the EU.

Experts put this down to proximity, a similar language and the fact that many Ukrainians were already living in Poland before the invasion and could accommodate friends and family.  

According to research carried out by the University of Warsaw’s Centre for Migration Research, over 50% of Ukrainian refugees in Poland are living with other Ukrainian people or being hosted by Polish people.

Speaking to The Journal, migration researcher at the centre Dominika Pszczółkowska said she was “surprised” by the figure. 

“It is quite amazing. After a year, about half of the people who came and who are still here basically have free housing,” she said.

“This free housing might be with a family or it might be often in an apartment or room belonging to somebody else who doesn’t make them pay. This is, I think, pretty unheard of anywhere, so we were surprised by this results, but that’s what people said.”

ukrainian-families-reunited-at-the-medyka-polish-border Ukrainians arrive after crossing the border from Shehyni in Ukraine to Medyka in Poland on 26 February 2022. ABACA / PA Images ABACA / PA Images / PA Images

The Polish government had been paying people hosting refugees 40 Zlotys (€8) per day, but this stopped in July. 

Pszczółkowska said many other refugees have sourced their own accommodation and are now renting, with the majority of those who arrived now working. 

“The rate of professional activity of the refugees who came is very high, it’s over 60%. Of course they’re not necessarily doing the same type of work as they did back in Ukraine, but they do have a job, so they can rent an apartment,” she said.

“Of course this is not so straightforward. It’s expensive to rent housing, especially in big cities in Poland, compared to what you earn, so it’s not like the moment you get a job you can have a nice, big apartment, but they do manage to rent out some housing.

It’s not easy for Ukrainian people in places like Warsaw to have affordable and stable housing. It’s not like we had many apartments standing empty before the war, the housing market was already pretty tight. It was probably not to the scale of Dublin if I can compare, but it was getting tighter and tighter.

She said that there is a minority of refugees staying in purpose-built refugee centres and in hotel accommodation, which the researchers also found surprising. 

“Given the general level of wealth of Polish people, it’s not like everybody has a spare house, so I was expecting it to be more of a problem. But I think part of the problem was solved by this huge initial outpouring of goodwill and help when people took Ukrainian people in.”

Ukrainian refugees and their families in Poland have access to a single cash benefit of 300 Polish Zloty (€62), as well as access to social assistance on a general basis, provided they meet the income-based conditions.

From March, Ukrainian refugees living in accommodation centres for over 120 days will have to cover 50% of their costs, and 75% of their costs if they have lived there for over 180 days.

portrait-of-an-old-lady-waiting-for-the-train-ukrainian-people-mostly-women-mothers-with-children-or-elderly-the-war-refugees-as-seen-boarding-the-train-railroad-car-they-get-in-fast-after-waitin An elderly Ukrainian woman waiting for a train to Poland in March 2022. Alamy Stock Photo Alamy Stock Photo

“In Poland, I think in contrast to Ireland, you can barely live on benefits. It’s not doable,” Pszczółkowska said.

“The one benefit that is significant and easy to get because it’s not means tested … is child benefit. The child benefit is 500 Zloty per month, which is about €100, and Ukrainian people like Polish people, get it for each child. So that I think helps the budget of many people.”

One area that is also difficult in the country is education. There are a shortage of teachers in Poland and classes have become more stretched with the additional children, Pszczółkowska said.

“Some schools managed to get support teachers who teach Polish to these kids, other schools did not. Some schools created special classes for Ukrainian kids with a lot of Polish teaching, but many did not and the kids just went into regular Polish classes, so the classes are larger than they were before,” she said.

“Some Ukrainian kids are going to Polish schools, and when they are, it’s usually just following the Polish curriculum. That has worked out pretty well for the majority. They learn Polish quickly because the languages are similar, so they’re making progress,” she said.

a-ukrainian-refugee-boy-searches-for-toys-in-plaza-centre-in-krakow-poland-where-internationaler-bund-polska-foundation-provides-free-goods-for-war-escapees-as-more-than-two-million-people-have-alrea A Ukrainian refugee boy searching for toys in Plaza centre in Krakow, where Internationaler Bund Polska Foundation provided free goods for war escapees, in March 2022. Alamy Stock Photo Alamy Stock Photo

“For a minority, if you were in the last year of primary school, you would have had to take the end of primary exam just as anybody else to qualify for a good high school. So if you arrived in March, and the exam was in May or June, that wasn’t doable, so these kids were usually moved back a year.

“But actually, a minority of the kids that we know are here are in Polish schools, which means a lot of kids are still doing online Ukrainian school, which makes sense for them obviously, especially for older kids, because they continue in the same system.

They are hoping to go back, but whether they will be able to go back and how that will work, we’ll see.

She said that public opinion towards helping Ukrainian refugees is still extremely positive.

“90% of people would say we still need to help and they’re still welcome, and the numbers in terms of people supporting immigration in general have actually increased over the last year,” she said.

“I guess the social experience is mostly positive. People have met these newcomers, have seen that they’re fine people like us and actually see the benefits.”

Czech Republic

Almost 490,000 Ukrainian refugees have arrived in Czech Republic, also known as Czechia, since the war began. The country has a population of 10.7 million, and similarly to Poland, had a large Ukrainian population before the war began. 

“A lot of Ukrainian refugees went to private accommodation, because even before the war there was a big Ukrainian population. These were mostly labour migrants,” Jakub Andrle, who works on migration awareness for the NGO People in Need in Czech Republic, told The Journal.

“There were about 200,000 of them, and a lot of young men went in the opposite direction to Ukraine to fight, so there were relatively a lot of places in apartments possible to accommodate a lot of people in these apartments.”

He said other people went through collective accommodation, which was provided by the State, but that capacity became full after a couple of weeks, meaning the accommodation provided became worse.

jihlava-czech-republic-02nd-mar-2022-the-new-regional-assistance-centre-for-ukrainian-refugees-started-operating-on-march-2-2022-in-jihlava-czech-republic-ukrainians-are-fleeing-the-war-after Ukrainian refugees in a regional assistance centre in Jihlava, Czech Republic on 2 March. Alamy Stock Photo Alamy Stock Photo

“It was near the borders where there are no hospitals, no schools, no work. These were very isolated places and the accommodation was very poor, leaking roofs and so on.”

After the initial influx, more people moved on to other European countries and the numbers in Czech Republic stabilised.

A survey conducted by the European Commission of 3,721 Ukrainian refugees living in the country found that around 20% said they live in commercial or municipal rentals, while almost 30% live in non-residential types of housing such as hostels and hotels.

The other 50% said they live in apartments provided by or shared with Czech or Ukrainian households. 

Those accommodating Ukrainian refugees can receive 3,000 Czech Koruna, or around €125, per hosted person per month.

While refugees were not included in the country’s social welfare system, they received financial assistance from the government and were permitted to work immediately.

Andrle estimates that up to 100,000 refugees are working, though many are overqualified for the jobs they have.

“Some employers don’t want to employ people in higher positions because they don’t know if these people will leave in a couple of weeks or months, and also the refugees themselves mostly do want to go back to Ukraine so they don’t want better positions. The third reason is language. For some positions, knowledge of Czech is necessary and it’s simply impossible to work in these positions for them.”

brno-czech-republic-19th-may-2022-the-school-for-ukrainian-children-was-opened-in-purkynova-street-brno-czech-republic-on-thursday-may-19-2022-more-than-5-million-refugees-have-fled-ukraine A school for Ukrainian children in Czech Republic in May 2022. Alamy Stock Photo Alamy Stock Photo

He said that if government stopped the collective support of accommodation and financial benefits, 80% of the refugees would be in poverty. 

“The financial benefits are not high, but very important for the people. I think it’s even lower than €200 a month but it’s just enough so that these people can buy really basic stuff, like food and clothing for their kids and so on,” he said.

Around 80% of refugees are women and children and a lot of these women simply cannot afford to work full-time because they have to take care of the children. They really don’t have any money to save, only just to survive with basic necessities.

He said that following the initial “wave of support” to help Ukrainians, public opinion remains positive but has become weaker over time.

“For example, it was visible on the street. You could see Ukrainian flags pretty much everywhere, on all the main buildings in towns and cities, but now it’s more and more rare and people are a little bit tired, I think,” he said.

“It’s also because of the economic problems. The prices of energy went up by tens of percent during the autumn and the winter, so everyone knew that winter was going to be very difficult. The support went much lower than elsewhere in Central Europe.”

Despite this, Andrle stressed that there are no “open hostilities” towards Ukrainians.

“Even during the elections, regional elections and now the presidential elections, the issue of help to Ukrainians was not that controversial. It wasn’t the issue that would mobilise. So there is no large-scale hostility against Ukrainians, only the enthusiasm is gone.”


Closer to Ireland’s population of 5.1 million, Norway – which is not a member of the EU – has granted asylum to over 39,000 Ukrainian refugees. The country has a population of 5.5 million.

Of those, around 60% have sourced their own accommodation, according to the Norwegian Institute for Urban and Regional Research.

Vilde Hernes, a migration researcher at the Oslo Metropolitan University told The Journal that usually in Norway, all asylum seekers remain in temporary accommodation centres “with very few exceptions” until their application is approved, where they are then scheduled to stay in a certain municipality by the government. 

This law was changed temporarily for Ukrainian refugees following the outbreak of the war. 

refugees-who-arrived-from-ukraine-are-seen-on-a-bus-leaving-to-norway-from-the-station-in-krakow-poland-on-march-17-2022-russian-invasion-on-ukraine-causes-a-mass-exodus-of-refugees-to-poland-pho Ukrainian refugees on a bus heading to Norway from the station in Krakow, Poland in March 2022. Alamy Stock Photo Alamy Stock Photo

“They changed the law temporarily so that Ukrainian families could, to a much larger degree, live with family and friends or find their own accommodation, so there’s a lot more flexibility and more freedom to live outside of the normal reception system, for example,” Hernes said.

“It was very much used, but it also created a lot of complications because normally, everybody’s in the system living in the reception centres where the government can provide information, but now they were all dispersed all over Norway, there wasn’t a unified solution to reach all of them.

“Information challenges in our report was the main challenge throughout, how to reach these people when they’re not in the normal system, more or less.”

She said that of the initial influx of Ukrainians to Norway, research found that two-thirds had either family, friends or a professional network in the country, while one-third didn’t have any network at all.

“Of course, we assume that the people coming now are very different than the ones who had a network in Norway who came in the beginning. Now, it might be more coincidental or that they don’t have a network and have different needs in that regard.”

Hernes said that some municipalities are now finding themselves with less accommodation to offer Ukrainian refugees, which she said is a “real concern” for next year, when it is estimated that a further 40,000 refugees will arrive.

“Until now, I think it’s kind of worked and everybody made an effort and they managed with creative solutions and everything,” she said.

Minister for Integration Roderic O’Gorman recently appealed for his ministerial colleagues to survey what buildings might be in the remit of departments and state bodies that could be used.

Yesterday, the Cabinet Committee on Ukraine discussed accommodation options for refugees arriving here, with the Taoiseach acknowledging that the government has not been able to provide accommodation for all refugees and asylum seekers. 

In terms of accommodation, Varadkar said it “is anything we can get when it comes to accommodating people who were here refugees from Ukraine or people seeking international protection”.

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