In the two weeks following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, around 2.5 million people fled, the vast majority of them to European Union countries.

Russian President Vladimir Putin’s decision to launch an unprovoked war sparked a surge of goodwill in Europe, which launched an emergency protection system offering shelter, access to employment, medical care and education to those who fled the onslaught.

The system applies to all Ukrainian nationals who were displaced from Ukraine on or after February 24, 2022 “as a result of the military invasion by the Russian armed forces which began on that date”.

This also applies to their family members – spouses, unmarried partners in stable relationships and children – or people who were already refugees inside Ukraine before the war.

Under the system, Ukrainian nationals are allowed visa-free travel to Europe and can move once admitted for a period of 90 days.

This means that they can choose the EU country in which they wish to stay and apply for temporary protection there.

This period of protection would initially apply to one year. Unless it ends, the stay can be extended by periods of six months for an additional year.

If Ukraine remains unsafe, the executive branch of the EU could extend the protection system for another year, making possible a maximum stay of three years in certain circumstances.

People can also apply for asylum in the EU at any time during their stay. Individual countries may also choose to offer more protections and measures.

What else are EU countries doing?

Germany’s main train operator, Deutsche Bahn (DB), is offering refugees free travel, and Berlin has become a hub for arrivals from neighboring Poland.

Ukrainian refugees can use around 40 trains from Poland, Austria or the Czech Republic for free to travel to several German cities, a Deutsche Bahn spokesperson told the ABC.

They can then use the free “helpukraine” ticket to reach other destinations in Germany, Switzerland and the European Union.

Volunteers give refugees food and clothing upon arrival at Berlin’s main train station.(Reuters: Annegret Hilse)

Meanwhile, Moldova is offering free coronavirus testing and vaccination to Ukrainian refugees.

At the main reception center in the capital Chisinau, anyone can receive one of the many COVID-19 vaccines available.

Poland has also approved legislation offering financial assistance to refugees and allowing them to stay legally in the country for 18 months.

In Ireland, the government lifted all visa restrictions for Ukrainians fleeing the conflict.

He also asked airlines to accept Ukrainians who did not have passports but had other identification, such as a driver’s license or birth certificate.

A person in a black puffer jacket hands something to a small child
Polish volunteers provide the refugees with water, hot meals, travel supplies and toys for the children. (ABC News: Brendan Esposito )

The British paid to open homes for refugees

In Britain, the government has announced that it will pay people to open their homes to Ukrainians.

The new scheme, called Homes for Ukraine, will allow war refugees to come to Britain even if they have no family ties, the government has said.

Britain will pay people 350 pounds ($625) a month if they can offer refugees an alternative room or property for a minimum of six months.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has sought to portray Britain as helping to lead the global response to the Russian invasion, but his government has come under fire for delays in accepting refugees.

Politicians from all major parties have attacked the government’s insistence that Ukrainians apply for visas and biometric tests before arriving in Britain, saying this bureaucracy prioritizes the welfare of those fleeing the country. war.

Under the new scheme, members of the public, charities, businesses and community groups should be able to offer accommodation via a webpage by the end of next week, the government said.

Anyone offering a room or accommodation will need to demonstrate that the accommodation meets standards and may be subject to criminal record checks.


Racism and human trafficking emerge as concerns

The EU system excludes those living in Ukraine on a short-term basis, such as foreign students, and reports have emerged on social media of discrimination and violence against people of color trying to flee the fighting.

The United Nations said Secretary-General Antonio Guterres was “shocked” by numerous reports of racism, harassment and discrimination targeting refugees as they attempted to leave Ukraine.

Mr. Guterres called on all governments in the region to suppress any manifestation of racism and xenophobia.

“It is vital that they ensure that all people, regardless of their ethnic origin, religion or culture, enjoy the same treatment and protection,” the secretary-general said according to his spokesperson, Stephane Dujarric.

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said the government had spared “no effort to solve the problem”.

“Africans seeking evacuation are our friends and must be given equal opportunity to return to their home countries safely,” he said in a statement on Twitter.

A woman in warm clothes sits on a seat on a train platform with a child sitting on her lap.
With men between the ages of 18 and 60 banned from leaving Ukraine, almost all of the refugees fleeing the country are women and children. (PA: Petros Giannakouris)

Moreover, as millions of women and children cross Ukraine’s borders, concerns grow about how to protect the most vulnerable refugees from victims of human trafficking or other forms of exploitation.

Police in Wrocław, Poland, said on Thursday they arrested a 49-year-old suspect charged with rape after he allegedly assaulted a 19-year-old Ukrainian refugee he lured with offers of help online.

Berlin police warned women and children in a social media post in Russian and Ukrainian against accepting offers of overnight stays and urged them to report anything suspicious.