Ukrainian refugees in Poland: how long will the warm welcome last?


What usually stays undiscussed within the extensively distributed descriptions of assist of warfare refugees (1) from Ukraine within the context of Russia’s invasion is that the overwhelming majority of those volunteers – at the very least, in case of the main spots in Warsaw – have been Ukrainians, lots of whom had fled the warfare themselves. With the latest dialogue in regards to the arrival of Ukrainian refugees being centred across the speedy mobilization of solidarity within the native communities of the ‘host societies’, it is very important ask who’s recognised as part of these ‘native communities’.

Whereas the speedy response and assist of the Polish majority ought to certainly be applauded, right here, I wish to ask who’s going to bear the prices of social copy in Ukrainian refugee migration in a long-term perspective, as soon as the ‘host societies’ change into fatigued by the warfare and the humanitarian emotions fade away. 

We already observe how the ‘native communities’ are much less prepared to host the displaced, and the states (the Polish state, as an illustration) withdraw their help to these welcoming refugees of their properties. As from the start, this solidarity has largely relied on the unstable building of Europeanness and whiteness, one could ask a query, aptly formulated by one in every of my Ukrainian analysis interlocutors: “How lengthy will this solidarity final? When will they begin treating us (Ukrainians) like Syrian refugees?”.

With short-term safety giving no entry to extra expansive refugee safety and welfare rights, coupled with a fatigue of ‘host societies’, the query to be requested is who will reproduce the lives of Ukrainians fleeing the warfare because the warfare is unlikely to be over any time quickly.

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To reply these questions would require recognizing over one million Ukrainian residents who had already lived in Poland when the warfare started, and who now bear the prices of social copy by internet hosting their members of the family, kinfolk and buddies in small residences amidst the skyrocketing rise of the price of residing. Like many others, Andrii, a recent graduate of a Polish college working in a grocery store warehouse, instructed me about internet hosting his grandmother and his youthful brother in a small one-room condo for an indefinite time frame. 

White and largely invisibilised our bodies

Whereas persevering with the conversations on the reception of Ukrainian refugees in Europe, it’s important to abstain from recentring a white European determine ‘standing with Ukraine’ – certainly, with all its unequally distributed assets for racialised solidarity – and take into account the labour of Ukrainian migrants that has been lengthy fueling EU economies. This labour carried out by ostensibly white and largely invisibilised our bodies has been lengthy wanted within the EU like air. 

Whereas remaining largely ignored by migration researchers internationally, Ukrainian residents have been within the high of the recipients of employment associated residence permits powering the EU economies, similtaneously Poland has change into the prime recipient of labour migration within the EU since 2014. Over 500,000 first residence permits have been issued to Ukrainian residents yearly, nearly solely by its nighbouring state, Poland. 

“How lengthy will this solidarity final? When will they begin treating us (Ukrainians) like Syrian refugees?”

It’s only with the disruption of the ‘regular’ in the course of the COVID-19 pandemic that Europe’s reliance on this migrant labour grew to become publicly seen as these staff couldn’t attain their workplaces, to change into forgotten as soon as once more when the emergency was ‘over’. The burden of help within the context of displacement too falls on Ukrainian migrant communities and other people like Andrii, too usually employed in a precarious low-paid financial system. 

Once we look at the hyperlinks between Ukrainian migrants’ long-term labour mobilities and present displacement within the context of Russia’s invasion, it turns into seen how those that “assist” and those that “flee” are sometimes similar people who share and perceive the predicaments of displaced communities.

Ukrainians serving to Ukrainians

The invisibility of Ukrainian migrant labour continues to be reproduced within the present reception spectacle within the EU. Whereas usually muted within the EU’s self-celebratory tone of ‘standing with Ukraine’ but placing their labour into sustaining different Ukrainian refugees’ lives within the long-term, many Ukrainians labored in Warsaw’s main stations full days, offering data, shifting the bags, discovering journey routes to different nations, serving to with paperwork, prepare and bus tickets, translating and filling in visa functions. 

A few of them have been Ukrainian pupil staff, who had already lived in Poland earlier than the full-scale invasion and whose housing contracts and pupil visas have been quickly about to run out. One among these college students, Anna, thought of shifting again to Ukraine for the summer season as discovering and paying for lodging in Warsaw has change into much more tough. 

It was not simple even earlier than the warfare for these having ‘Ukrainian accents’, names and surnames when responding to housing provides ‘for Poles solely’. Not like different Ukrainian residents who crossed the EU border after 24 February, individuals like Anna aren’t entitled for short-term safety and different advantages (e.g. free public transport and railway). Earlier than the advantages have been eliminated, a stamp in a Ukrainian passport proving the border crossing after the start of the warfare was checked on the entrance to free soup kitchens and ticket workplaces, dividing the road between the Ukrainians who have been deserving of extra assist from those that have been anticipated to be settled. 

Within the autumn, Anna’s landlord elevated her lease by 20 % motivating it by the inflation in Poland, which put additional monetary pressure on her mother and father residing in Ukraine. As I’m writing these traces in November 2022, Anna continues offering free assist to Ukrainian nationals with getting ready visa functions for North America. She “volunteers” in one in every of many NGOs that rely closely on younger extremely educated Ukrainian refugees who communicate English, Russian, Ukrainian and Polish and labored free of charge.

Refugees’ non-work

Tales like this are nothing new and aren’t confined to the context of Ukraine solely. Researcher present how the labour of constructing life within the context of disasters is carried out by racilised, precariously employed localized staff confined to emotionally draining and bodily demanding low-status, labour-intensive jobs. Volunteering labour carried out by refugees has been invisibilised and framed as non-work.

Feminist social copy theorists have lengthy argued how the invisible labour of sustaining day-to-day life has been outsourced to racialised working class communities. This understanding questions the notion of labor as synonymous with pay and employment, shifting the main focus in direction of unpaid and unrecognized types of work. As in different circumstances, with volunteers’ work being reframed as non-work, the historical past of those types of reproductive labour is the historical past of neglect and nonrecognition

Volunteers’ labour has been lately theorized and problematized as ‘non-work’, as acts of affection and repair, coaching and expertise alternatives. I might additionally recommend that these types of non-work have differential recognition and alternate worth relying on the labouring physique that performs this ‘non-work’. Volunteering and solidarity achieve completely different public recognition and worth relying on sociocultural mechanisms associated to race, gender, nationality, and citizenship. 

Some volunteers on the station in Warsaw who got here from North America certainly, talked about volunteering as ‘assist’ pushed by the shortcoming to remain nonetheless on the face of a catastrophe; however many additionally had time and financial capitals that they might put into spending a number of weeks on the station, contemplating that to them the price of residing in Warsaw was greater than inexpensive.

Some labored for Western NGOs, whose functioning grew to become doable solely because of the ‘assist’ of Ukrainian translators, whose work was primarily unpaid but obtainable ‘naturally’. Some volunteers coming from overseas have been college students of Japanese European research, Russian and Ukrainian languages, who have been gaining essential expertise and linguistic apply for the long run. 

In the meantime, one of many younger Ukrainian girls volunteering on the station stated, “it’s a pity I gained’t even get a certificates or every other proof that I volunteered right here”. She stated this whereas getting ready her CV for a spherical of job functions.  Along with emotional labour and expertise in data search, a longer-term sustaining of day-to-day lives by the availability of knowledge depends extensively on linguistic expertise, too usually being ignored as ‘pure’ by the advantage of 1 merely ‘coming from Ukraine’. 

Ukrainian individuals’s expertise of volunteering as ‘non-work’ has little alternate worth and is relatively seen as obtainable naturally just by advantage of ‘being from Ukraine’ and having pure linguistic competence. This labour is rendered invisible as a result of it’s carried out by a ‘Ukrainian refugee’ herself.  Whereas standing on the data desk and having our conversations interrupted by individuals asking questions on housing, visas and transportation, I spent many hours speaking with younger Ukrainian volunteers’ personal methods of discovering paid work which might enable them to make a residing within the EU. 

Migrating to different nations

Many didn’t envision a long-term keep in Poland due to depressive labour market alternatives for individuals who simply moved, whereas migrating to different nations was usually seen as an possibility solely by these with kinfolk and buddies already residing there.

Not like different volunteers, many of those individuals – principally younger and principally girls – had nowhere to come back again to, and their labour just isn’t applauded as a response from the ‘area people’, neither it has any alternate worth like in case of different non-Ukrainian volunteers. Some refugee volunteers joined precarious labour markets within the service sector working in bars and memento retailers,which additional exhibits the hyperlinks between pracarious waged migrant labour and volunteering as “non-work” within the railway station or western NGOs.

Ukrainian individuals’s labour – each paid and unpaid – dangers being uncared for as soon as once more in Europe’s self-congratulatory narratives that solely body Ukrainians because the recipients of assist, as occurred in different contexts of displacement. 


1) Whereas I exploit a phrase ‘refugees’ right here, it is very important do not forget that these individuals are not granted refugee standing below the 1951 Geneva Conference.  

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