Greece becomes a country of refuge again, now for thousands of Ukrainians

This content was published on March 18, 2022 – 08:30

Diego Saez Papachristou and Ingrid Haak

Athens, March 18 (EFE).- Katerina and Vitali only knew the bombs in the movies. They had never heard the sound of a real impact and until a month ago their daily life resembled that of other Europeans; their concerns were also the same: work, family, health and friends. They now have to start a new life in Greece, one of the European countries that has experienced the refugee tragedy more closely.

“It was five o’clock in the morning on February 24 when I was suddenly awakened by something that sounded like thunder. I woke my husband up and asked him if he thought it was some kind of rain or storm, then we were scared and realized that it was bombs, and from that moment our life in Ukraine became a disaster.

With these words, Katerina tries to explain to Efe what she felt when she heard the first bombs that would mark the beginning of a long nightmare.

The couple and their three daughters, Alejandra, Anna and Valentina, aged 7, 9 and 11 respectively, endured five days in a row between their flat and the basement as the air-raid alarms kept ringing . His city of Kharkov, one of the hardest hit by Russia’s war against Ukraine, had turned into hell.

It is the fifth night that the thunder of a new bombardment, this time very close, makes them decide that the time has come to leave their town.

After a 10-day odyssey and endless hours of train and coach travel, the family arrived in Athens, where they temporarily stayed with friends.

They are one more example of those that we see today throughout Europe, even in relatively distant countries such as Greece, which continues to suffer the consequences of other migratory crises on a daily basis: the war in Syria , the conflict in Afghanistan, or the suffering suffered by various African countries.

In Greece, there were already about 25,000 Ukrainians before this war, mostly families with few resources. In recent weeks, more than 10,000 people have come, at the rate of half a thousand a day on average.

Most of those who arrive in Athens do so by bus, to a station in the central square of Karaiskaki, where they are received mainly by volunteers from the Ukrainian diaspora, who go out of their way to help their compatriots in whatever any way.

Ukrainians and Greeks meet regularly in different areas of the city to organize the shipment of basic necessities, which various organizations and companies have been collecting since the start of the war to lend a hand to those who remained behind.

“As we can’t be there, we are trying to help our compatriots and our families who are going through a big disaster at the moment,” Igor, 29, tells Efe from a warehouse where they were picked up in less than 5 days. . 200 tons of medicine, food and blankets.

The Greek government has also created a website, where public and private organisations, citizens and NGOs can offer everything from housing, food or money, to different types of services such as legal assistance or psychological care. There is also a link where arriving Ukrainians can apply for accommodation.

The Ministry of Migration has indicated that there are currently 15,000 beds available, which could reach 30,000, although it assures that at present very few people have asked to stay in the structures of the State, because most are hosted by compatriots and relatives.

Despite this, the government has already organized three refugee camps for short stays. Two are in the north – one on the border with Bulgaria, the main entry point – and another on the island of Salamis, next to Athens.

For now, those arriving are still in shock, unsure how long their exile will last or what their long-term needs will be.

“For us, it’s a disaster. Our life ended there. Our program, the school for our daughters, our work. Everything stopped suddenly. Now we have to start our life from scratch. We left our house, our things,” he explains. in Greek Vitali, who knows Athens well, having worked there for more than a decade in construction.

Despite their discomfort with the lack of perspective on life, they both find words of gratitude for the help Europe gives them.

“We are happy that the whole world and all of Europe are trying to help us. I am not afraid now, but I feel frustrated and insecure about tomorrow,” says Katerina, who worked as an English teacher in his country.

What Katerina seems to be clear about, like many of her compatriots, is that Ukraine will end up defending its independence, “because we love our country”. EFE

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