Czech Republic ready to take in refugees from Ukraine

Protest against Russian aggression in Mariupol

As the eyes of the world rest on Ukraine, European governments are preparing for possible scenarios, and means of helping the country. The full-blown Russian invasion will require humanitarian aid on the ground and may result in an outpour of refugees to European states.  The Czech government has said it is ready to take in thousands of Ukrainians should the need arise.

Ukrainians living and working in the Czech Republic are now glued to their TV sets watching developments in their homeland and praying for the safety of loved ones. Irina Vančická is a music teacher and translator who settled in the Czech Republic years ago. Speaking to Czech Radio, she said that despite the drawn-out conflict with Russia the developments in her homeland had come as a huge shock.

“I was dismayed to hear what is happening. I honestly did not expect this. I thought Putin was bluffing and playing his usual power games as he has so often in the past.”

Many of the Ukrainians who have made a new home in the Czech Republic –there are officially 200,000 of them, but possibly twice that number - are now mulling the possibility of getting their closest relatives out of the country, only to find that elderly parents usually want to stay where they are. However, given the volatile situation this could change overnight resulting in an outpour of refugees to European states. Martin Rozumek, head of the Organization in Aid of Refugees says the country can take in thousands of Ukrainians at short notice.

Martin Rozumek | Photo: Jana Přinosilová,  Czech Radio

“We would be able to take in several thousand people almost immediately because our asylum centres are near-empty. If the government allocated an adequate sum of money to lease accommodation facilities from private owners then we could easily manage to help tens of thousands of refugees and more. It is hard to say how big the need will be at this point. Humanitarian aid will be needed in Ukraine for those who are sick and elderly and do not want to leave. But some will want to come for sure. Only yesterday we had calls from 11 Ukrainian families asking how they could get their relatives here.”

One reason why Ukrainians would want to come to the Czech Republic is that there is already a big Ukrainian community here – Ukrainians are the second largest minority in the Czech Republic after the Slovaks. The language and culture are similar and those who come find it easy to integrate and feel at home here.  Interior Minister Vít Rakušan said the ministry had prepared a crisis scenario to deal with a possible wave of refugees.

Vít Rakušan | Photo: Kateřina Šulová,  ČTK

“The scenario clearly specifies what mechanisms will be activated in the event of small, medium or overwhelming interest. We are prepared for every possibility. And I am happy to say that there has been a huge wave of solidarity from Czech citizens. The interest in helping was so big that we have already established an email address where people can send offers of accommodation and other forms of aid for potential refugees from Ukraine.”

The government is also moving to make life easier for the 200,000 Ukrainian workers in this country. The interior minister announced on Wednesday that those with short-term visas could get them extended without needing to return to Ukraine to do so –which would be the normal procedure. How many Ukrainian workers may decide to go back home anyway to defend the country is as yet unclear.

Interior Ministry email for offers of help: [email protected]