As Russian troops invaded, over seven and half million Ukrainian refugees fled across the borders to Poland. Thousands of Polish volunteers mobilised to help the displaced and welcome them into their homes, schools, and businesses.
With no end in sight to the conflict, Poland faces a new challenge—settling these arrivals for the longer-term.
“Ten months into the war, the needs of the refugees have changed,” says Grzegorz Gajda, a senior urban sector specialist at the European Investment Bank who hosted five Ukrainian refugees at his home in Poland. “They need employment, a stable income, free education, and free access to health and public services to create a new life in Poland.”
To help integrate the Ukrainian refugees, the European Investment Bank approved a €2 billion loan, signed in June this year. The financing is made under the EU bank’s Solidarity Package for Ukraine, prepared in cooperation with the European Commission.
Adapting to a new reality
Poland has welcomed more than 1.5 million Ukrainian refugees since the beginning of the war. The scale of the influx is such that the population of Rzeszów, the largest city in south-eastern Poland, has increased by 50%. In Warsaw, the population has grown by 15%, while Kraków’s has risen by 23% and Gdańsk’s by 34%.
Ukrainian refugees can legally live and work across the European Union. They are also eligible for the same benefits as Polish citizens, such as health insurance, free public education, and child allowance.
But this new reality has put pressure on local authorities. With the vast percentage of refugees wanting to stay and work in Poland as long as the war continues, the authorities are struggling to accommodate the needs of these new arrivals.
“When the initial local enthusiasm runs out and the resources are depleted, there is a need for a systemic solution,” says Tomasz Balawajder, a legal counsel at the European Investment Bank. “You need to make sure that the public sector will function efficiently and provide financial support and social benefits to the host communities and refugees.”
Supporting Poland’s efforts
Integrating millions of refugees requires time, careful planning, new infrastructure, and funds.
That is why less than one month after the invasion, the Polish government established the Aid Fund, which provides financing for all activities and projects necessary to help and integrate Ukrainian refugees. It’s operated by Bank Gospodarstwa Krajowego (BGK).
The European Investment Bank has already disbursed €600 million in financing to the Aid Fund, the first tranche of the €2 billion to be allocated to support the fund. BGK distributes the funds to local governments and other public entities that welcome and host Ukrainian refugees
“We had to create a new form of cooperation to generate resources for wide spectrum of activities supporting the Ukrainian refugees and helping them feel like Polish citizens,” says Robert Faliński, director of the Fund Managing Office at BGK.
Building a new home
Children and women are deeply affected by the war. Still, the children go to school, while women work and help their loved ones and compatriots in Ukraine as much as they can.
“Women and children make up 90% of the refugees in Poland,” says Vasco Amaral Cunha, a banker at the European Investment Bank in charge of the public sector in Poland. “The operation will have a special focus on meeting women and children’s most basic needs.”