According to the United Nations, more than 4 million people have fled Ukraine in the five weeks since the start of the war and about 6.5 million have been internally displaced. That is over 10 million people, or about a quarter of the country’s population, which is the most massive migration in modern European history.
Viktor Filima, a representative of the Ukrainian community in Zagreb, told Hina in an interview that Poland would most likely take in all the displaced persons, but that it was questionable whether it would be able to physically endure the pressure.
Croatia has expressed its intention to take care of 20,000 displaced persons, and can expect more arrivals. Filima said that a considerable number of refugees would stay even if the war were to end soon because it would take time before Ukraine rebuilts its damaged infrastructure.
According to Filima, the refugees’ primary wish is to return to their homes as soon as possible, but many of them are not aware that they will have to stay longer because their cities and infrastructure have been razed to the ground.
Filima said that Croatia had proved to be well organised as it had taken care of all the refugees.
The first migrations of Ukrainians to Croatia began at the time of Austria-Hungary 130 years ago. Before the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the Ukrainian community in Croatia was between two and three thousand strong, and now their number could increase tenfold.
30 per cent of refugees highly educated
Representatives of the Ukrainian community see potential in the migration, saying that Croatia could benefit from Ukrainian refugees because 30% of them are highly educated people, including medical doctors who are in short supply in Croatia.
The head of the Ukrainian community in Zagreb, Marija Meleško, who studied the Croatian language and literature in Kyiv and has been living in Croatia for 15 years, says that refugees are not aware that they will stay here longer than they expect.
Some of the refugees who arrived in the first wave have applied for temporary protection and some of those who have obtained temporary protection cards have already enrolled their children in school. Only a small number of refugees have expressed their desire to work because they first need to learn basic Croatian and meet other requirements for integration into the labour market.
Meleško said the majority of refugees were women and children because men below 60 years of age must not leave Ukraine, with the exception of parents with children with disabilities or with several children.
“Before thinking of how to find work, mothers first need to settle their status and enrol their children in school or kindergarten,” she said. Another problem is the recognition of qualifications for work in a regulated profession, which takes time, especially for medical doctors. Ukraine is not a member of the EU, and in order to get a job in Croatia, doctors first need to have their degree recognised and learn Croatian, she added, hoping that this process will be accelerated.
Regulating status is not a problem because displaced persons only need to apply for temporary protection via the bilingual website Croatia for Ukraine, which also provides other information. With a temporary protection card, they can exercise their rights to education, health insurance and all other rights enjoyed by Croatian nationals.
Nearly half of the refugee population are children, many of whom have been enrolled in kindergarten or school, and they will not have trouble integrating, Filima said. “If the war continues, they will make friends and get to know their neighbours. Some will enrol in university or get a job, and when they see that they have nowhere to go back to, a good many of them will probably stay.”
Filima believes that the integration process will not be a problem because the two languages are similar. “The Croatian language is Ukrainian written in Latin”, and there are also cultural and visual similarities between Ukraine and Croatia, he said. He also believes that it will be easier for Ukrainians to continue their lives in Croatia because of Croatia’s experience with the war from the 1990s.
Meleško said she had noticed that the refugees could feel the support and sympathy in Croatia. “What they are getting, the understanding of the situation in which they have found themselves, because Croatians themselves have gone through similar ordeals in the past, is creating a positive atmosphere of hospitality and giving them the feeling that they can be part of this society.”
Meleško believes that children will fit into the education system very quickly and will have no trouble learning the language.
According to official information from Saturday, the majority of Ukrainian refugees in Croatia, namely 10,292 out of 11,791, are in individual accommodation. Most of them are accommodated in continental Croatia, and to a lesser extent in Dalmatia and Istria.
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