As the war in Ukraine drags on with no immediate end in sight, Poland's initial embrace of refugees is starting to show signs of strain, as resources — including volunteers, housing, classroom space and jobs — are running thin.
Poland has taken in about 2.9 million of the more than 5 million Ukrainians who have fled the country. The population has grown by about 15 percent since the war began here in the capital city. Mayor Rafal Trzaskowski warned that Warsaw is at capacity and unable to absorb another wave of refugees, which he fears could be coming as Russia changes its strategy to focus its attacks on the eastern part of Ukraine.
In an interview with MSNBC on Tuesday, he said that the long term vision of quite a lot of problems and it puts an enormous strain on the city. The mayor visited the United States to plead for more help from the international community and warn that with the escalation in the east and 7 million people displaced within Ukraine, we can expect another wave. Thousands of people in Poland mobilized to welcome Ukrainians into their own homes at the beginning of the war, but finding housing has become more difficult. Polish families willing to host refugees have filled up their spare rooms. The number of available apartment units for rent in Warsaw has decreased significantly and rental prices have gone up by more than 30 percent since the end of February.
At first, an expo center on the outskirts of Warsaw was transformed into a mass refugee shelter when the war started and served as a stop-off point for refugees to catch up on sleep and get a free hot meal. Many stayed in the center for one or two nights before traveling to a different country or finding accommodations in Poland better suited for a long-term stay.
The center has become a home for people with nowhere else to go.
Alina Kushnir, 35, from Kropyvnytskyi in central Ukraine, has been living in the expo center since March with her four children, her sister and her parents. They have not been able to find a Polish family willing to take such a large family, and they have had little luck finding an apartment of their own. She said landlords keep rejecting her rental requests, telling her that her family is too large for the apartments she can afford to rent.
She said it is hard and uncomfortable to live in the expo center.