Ukraine’s ambassador to neighboring Poland said his country was grateful for the Poles’ welcome to millions of Ukrainian refugees, but hoped the European Union would soon release billions of euros for Poland to that aid does not come “at the expense of the Polish people”.
Ambassador Andrii Deshchytsia says while there have been no real social tensions in the three months since Ukrainians began crossing Poland in search of safety, he fears they may surface in the future given the scale of Polish aid.
The government has extended free medical care, education and other social services to Ukrainians, while over 80% of them are housed in private Polish homes.
Deshchytsia noted that Russian online disinformation efforts include spreading the message that Ukrainians are treated better than Poles themselves, and that while these efforts have yet to find fertile ground, he fears that problems do not arise.
“I’m worried because I don’t know where the limits are of this hospitality, of the hospitality of Poles,” he said in an interview with The Associated Press (AP).
“It’s a warm and wholesome welcome. But how long can they keep them? And it is understandable for me, and it is also understandable for my compatriots. They understand that there are limits.
The solution, he says, is for the EU to release billions of euros from a pandemic recovery plan.
It would also have the benefit of preventing a large wave of Ukrainians from getting frustrated in Poland and heading elsewhere in the EU, Deshchytsia said.
While most of the bloc’s 27 members have secured their funds to help countries recover from the economic effect of the Covid-19 pandemic, 36 billion euros earmarked for Poland have been tied up in a dispute over court changes seen as an erosion of democratic standards.
The main point of contention is a disciplinary chamber in the Supreme Court which has been a way for the conservative ruling authorities in Poland to suspend judges whose rulings they dislike.
The European Commission wants the chamber abolished and the suspended judges reinstated, which Poland has not done.
Parliament is due to debate proposals to resolve the crisis above the chamber next week.
Deshchytsia said he wanted both sides to seek a compromise and urged the EU and Poland to achieve it.
“Poland has proven how effectively it can manage this wave of migrants, how effectively it can manage money from its own budget and how effectively it can provide assistance to migrants,” he said.
“It will help both Ukrainians and Poles living in Poland. And we will get out of possible tensions.
Mr Deshchytsia estimates that there are now between three and four million Ukrainians in Poland, of whom around 1.5 million were already working, studying and living in Poland before Russia’s brutal invasion of Ukraine, and the others have since arrived.
In a country of 38 million, that means Ukrainians now make up around 10% of the population.
The number of people who will remain remains uncertain and will be determined by the duration of the war.
The Polish Border Guard Agency has recorded some 3.5 million crossings from Ukraine to Poland since the start of the war, and more than 1.4 million in the other direction.
Of those arriving in Poland, some have headed for other countries, but a large percentage have chosen to stay in Poland, where many have friends or family and share cultural and linguistic ties with Poles.
Many also want to stay close to Ukraine, hoping to return there.
The ambassador said Ukrainians often ask him if it is acceptable to return now that Russian forces have been pushed back from the region around Kyiv and some other parts of the country.
He doesn’t have a good answer.
“It is very difficult to say whether you should return home or not, because the situation is not yet stable. So I could encourage you in Lviv, which is far from the front line. But in one day Lviv could be shelled like two or three days ago, and the rocket could hit your house or your car,” Deshchytsia said.
Poland and Ukraine have seen their ties strained in the past due to lingering tensions over ethnic bloodshed in the 20th century.
The ambassador says that has “changed radically” as the Russian threat has united Poles and Ukrainians.
In a sign of Polish support, Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki and President Andrzej Duda will step up lobbying for the EU to grant Ukraine EU candidate status at a June 23-24 summit.
Since the start of the war, the ambassador says he is often stopped by people on the street who thank him for Ukrainian resistance to Russia.
He says they tell him, “You are fighting for your freedom and ours…we will support you as long as necessary.”