The mayors of Poland’s two largest cities have said they are struggling to cope with the huge number of refugees arriving from Ukraine, as UN figures show more than 1.7 million people have crossed into Poland in the weeks since the Russia’s attack began.
Rafał Trzaskowski, the mayor of Warsaw, said that 300,000 people had arrived in the capital and pledged to continue to support refugees. But, he said on Twitter: “Our city remains the main destination for Ukrainian refugees. [The] situation is getting more and more difficult every day.”
More than 2.8 million people have fled Ukraine since 24 February, when the Russian invasion began. According to UN Human Rights Council data, more than half have travelled to Poland.
Refugees arriving to the Polish capital are mainly being accommodated in private residences, as well as two large sports arenas. Signs are now being posted in central train stations in Warsaw to direct people to other parts of Poland where there is more space to accommodate and provide for them. “Big cities in Poland are already overcrowded,” says one sign, “don’t be afraid to go to smaller towns: they are peaceful, have food, infrastructure and are well adapted.”
“I have this feeling that Warsaw is full and I hear it from many people. The reception points in Warsaw are also overcrowded,” said Marianna Ossolińska, a coordinator at the Club of Catholic Intelligentsia, which is working with refugees in Poland. Ossolińska is managing their hostel, which offers 70 beds and has been full since shortly after it opened on 2 March. “Many refugees try to come to Warsaw, probably because they believe it will be easier to find transport to western Europe from a capital city, or to find a job or make connections,” she said.
Ossolińska said many people working on the ground were now struggling to find places to accommodate everyone. “From day to day, it is much harder to find a private place for refugees.”
Kraków’s mayor, Jacek Majchrowski, said that the city was also reaching its capacity, with 100,000 people arriving in the past two weeks. “Kraków is slowly losing the opportunity to accommodate new waves of refugees,” he said, adding that places were now being offered outside the city.
On some public transport in Kraków announcements are being shown in Ukrainian as well as Polish to help inform the thousands of newcomers.
At the city’s main train station, there are two large tents serving hot food and offering advice to refugees. Inside, people sleep on rollout mats, waiting for trains or considering what to do next.
“I’ve heard that Kraków has taken 100,000 people,” said Jacek, a local volunteer helping at the station, “and we are only a city of 800,000.” He added that he had recently helped a mother who had arrived from Lviv with her children and had nowhere to sleep. “I called up my wife and said I’m bringing them home with me.”
One organisation, Fundacja Brata Alberta, tweeted about the “tragic” situation in Kraków train station: “There is nowhere to direct the refugees, they are stressed and confused, all help is needed, and above all, premises. We call many places, but the only answer is: there are no more beds.”
“Everyone wants to stay in Kraków,” said another volunteer at Krakow train station as she hurried between the groups of people asking for advice, “but there’s no more room.”
The Ukrainian flag is visible in almost every other shop and cafe window and the sense of solidarity on the streets of Poland’s second-largest city remains strong, even as the city appears to be reaching its limit for new arrivals. “Citizens of Ukraine have been working with us since the very existence [of our restaurant],” reads one sign in a cafe window in the historic old town, “we are in this together.”