A year on: Ukrainian refugees still welcome in Czechia

Since the war in Ukraine began, Czechia has given asylum to nearly half a million Ukrainian refugees. Only Poland and Germany have welcomed more immigrants from the war-torn country, but relative to the population, Czechia has helped more Ukrainians than any other country. What is the volunteer morale like a year on? 

Czech media reported, quite understandably, mainly on the massive influx of Ukrainian refugees to Prague, Brno, and other bigger cities. But they spread out all over the country. The Ministry of Interior, which is responsible for their registration, published an interactive map which shows, that for example the town of Žďár nad Sázavou with a population of about 20 000, now hosts over 600 hundred Ukrainians. Charita, a charity founded and sponsored mainly by the Catholic Church, is the only non-governmental organization in this region helping the refugees. Jana Kincová Křížková is the deputy director who organizes help for Ukrainians:

Jana Kincová Křížková | Photo: Charita Žďár nad Sázavou

“The first thing we did was organize a humanitarian collection for Ukraine. We contacted a Ukrainian businessman based here in the Czech Republic and asked the public to donate what was needed: mainly sanitary products and clothes. We started sending them to Ukraine via various channels. Then we spoke to the Kinsky family who owns a local chateau. They have a gym there and we used it as an emergency shelter for the refugees who started coming to our region.”

“So, right from the start we worked on two fronts, so to speak. We kept sending humanitarian help to Ukraine and organized help for the refugees here in Czechia. The first days and weeks were hectic. Many of the refugees did not know where to go, or whom to contact for help. So, we set up a kind of reception office where we helped them to contact the local authorities and get some emergency funds. But as this took a few days, we were handing out packages with basic sanitary products and  food in the meantime. They also needed clothes because the majority of them arrived with just one bag or backpack.”

Illustrative photo: Lenka Kratochvílová,  Czech Radio

Jana Kincová Křížková says it was not always easy for the refugees, who were accustomed to a certain work environment and status back at home, to adapt to the new situation:

“There are some refugees, especially those with a higher education, who simply cannot accept that they will have to work, say, at an assembly line. Not all of them are like that. We have Ukrainians with a university education who just say: What can I do? I will have to put up with such work, it is temporary. But for some, it is an insurmountable obstacle, and we leave the decision up to them, nobody can force them to accept a job they refuse to do.”

It has been more than a year now since the Ukrainians started arriving. Aren’t the Charita people starting to feel tired and overwrought? Are they wondering, when it will all end and the Ukrainians will go back home?

“I don’t think so. I think we still keep the positive thinking and feeling that we are doing the right thing. After all, we are here for the people who need help, no matter what language they speak.”

What Jana Kincová Křížková, deputy director of the Charita non-governmental organization in Žďár nad Sázavou some 160 kilometers or 100 miles south-east of Prague, says reflects the overall refugee situation in the whole country. Marian Jurečka, Minister of Labor and Social Affairs, is responsible for financial support for the refugees:

Photo: Charita ČR

“As far as humanitarian financial aid is concerned, we now support some 96,000 persons. In total, we have paid out about CZK 7.8 billion under this program. In the first months after the Russian invasion, we were helping about 240,000 refugees, so we see a significant decrease in numbers, here. Ukrainians are looking for jobs, they want to support themselves and their families through their work.”

“Since the beginning of the war, more than 190,000 Ukrainian people found jobs on the Czech labour market. Today, about 95,000 of them are active, since many of them returned home to Ukraine. When we look at the data from the past year and some qualified estimates, we see that altogether they contributed some CZK 8 billion in taxes and insurance to the state treasury. They also helped to fill a gap in our labour market in the health and social services sector, where we have had a long-term problem. They helped and are helping to improve the quality of life of many of our elderly or handicapped citizens.”

Photo illustrative: Václav Plecháček,  Czech Radio

More than 90 percent of child refugees were able to start attending Czech elementary schools. We are trying to help all of the child refugees to return to school. We also know that some fifty percent of teenagers were able to start attending secondary school. The rest are being taught online.

The arrival of hundreds of thousands of Ukrainian refugees brought problems that Czechia has never had to deal with before. Not everything went smoothly and without difficulties. But all in all, the country and its people managed this unprecedented situation without major problems and social upheavals.

Author: Vít Pohanka
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