Every conversation in Germany and France, during a recent sojourn, included discussion of the Ukraine war, conveying a palpable feeling of its proximity, and concern about how it might end or not. There was also a heart-felt sentiment of solidarity with the Ukrainian people, whose lives had been so brutally uprooted. That concern was often transformed into personal action.
A doctor friend living near Potsdam had welcomed a Ukrainian family, composed of a mother (paediatrician) and her two daughters, to live in his house temporarily. He had also organised work for her in his hospital, and the girls were enrolled in school. All had free German classes.
At a central railway station in Berlin, volunteers were waiting to greet any arriving Ukrainian refugees, and help them find resources and assistance. We were approached by them, perhaps because of my mother’s Polish-Russian roots! UN estimates 867,000 Ukrainians refugees have fled to Germany since the war began. On top of the million Syrians of just a few years ago.
In a village west of Bordeaux, friends who have an accommodation business took in two Ukrainian families and housed them for a couple of months. Similar to Germany, assistance was made available by French authorities with schooling and social support. France has received about 100,000 Ukrainian refugees.
On the other side of France, the town of Beaume-de-Venise, famous for its sweet wine, had adopted twenty Ukrainian refugees. Another friend had picked them up on the Ukraine-Romania border, after driving there with his van in convoy with some mates to help out. The town is now lodging and assisting their Ukrainians in every way possible.
Ukrainian flags were on buildings and windows everywhere, and evidence of other citizen support groups across France and Germany. Of course the welcome provided in Poland, Moldova and closer neighbours has been statistically much greater than in western Europe.
Obviously there was no concern about ‘boat people’, as the Ukrainians mainly came by road, train, air and foot! A few may have snuck into the EU zone by boat via the Baltic or Black Seas, but I didn’t hear anyone suggesting to turn them back à l’australienne.
The Potsdam doctor had even stopped using his space heaters to avoid using Russian gas, while Germany tries to ween itself off its total dependency. How successive German governments allowed this to occur is another very interesting question.
How are we doing here? Our attitude to refugees needs so much to change.