The War in Ukraine

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The War in Ukraine
Poland’s engagement

  Yogeswari S

About the Author

Yogeswari S is a postgraduate scholar at University of Madras. The comment is published as an outcome of the War in Ukraine workshop held on 05 August in collaboration with University of Madras and India-Office KAS Office, New Delhi. 

Poland, a key NATO ally sharing a border with Ukraine, as a fallout of the war in Ukraine Poland is inevitably affected due to refugee influx and increased threat from Russia’s aggression. Poland's diplomatic and military significance in the region has grown throughout the war. It has been the primary destination for US troops arriving in Eastern Europe, providing vital support to Kyiv. Its strategic location between Russia and Western Europe makes Poland a crucial player in Europe's security relationship with Russia and an essential part of NATO's deterrence network against Moscow. 

Poland has a history of tension with Russia due to its occupation during World War I and II and its opposition to Putin's regional posturing. The threats posed by a militant, Kremlin-reliant Belarus and the potential direct threat from Belarusian territory have raised concerns for Poland's security. 

(Kranz, How the Russia-Ukraine Crisis Is Turning Poland Into a Strategic Player, 2022) Poland aims to play an active role internationally and supports Ukraine's pro-Western orientation to create a prosperous neighbor free of Russia’s intervention. The strong economic and social ties between Poland and Ukraine, including being Ukraine's second-largest trading partner and hosting many Ukraine’s residents and stand against Russia motivate Poland's engagement in the war.

Impact of war in Ukraine
First, refugee crisis. The war between Russia and Ukraine in 2022 has led to a massive refugee crisis in Europe, with an estimated 6.3 million (by UNHCR) people fleeing the conflict. 968,389- Refugees from Ukraine recorded in Poland: The number of immigrants from Ukraine in Poland will be significantly higher in the coming months (or maybe years) than at the beginning of 2022. As of 15 May 2022, around 1.1 million war refugees have registered in Poland, with many children, working-age females, and elderly individuals. The largest Polish agglomerations, such as Mazowieckie, Śląskie, and Dolnośląskie, have received the most significant number of registered refugees. In Warsaw alone, approximately 300,000 refugees stayed in the city as of 24 April 2022. The city faced a considerable challenge in providing shelter and integrating refugee children into the schooling system.

Second, healthcare. The number of refugees reached over four million; most were women, children, and the elderly. Studies have shown that refugees are at a higher risk of SARS-CoV-2 infection than native-born populations. One concern is that many refugees fleeing Ukraine may not be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 due to suboptimal vaccination rates in their home country. The refugees have been allowed to enter Poland without vaccination certificates or negative test results, which could lead to the spread of COVID-19 in the host country. The rapid increase in the number of people needing healthcare poses a new and challenging task for the healthcare systems of countries receiving refugees. Mental health is one of the most pressing issues due to the trauma of displacement and ongoing conflict, leading to a higher risk of mental health disorders like depression, anxiety, and PTSD. To address these issues, governments and humanitarian organisations must collaborate to provide refugees access to basic healthcare services.

Third, cyber threat. Poland has been a target of Russia’s cyber operations and cyber-enabled information warfare for several years. Still, the attacks intensified after the February invasion of Ukraine . As Poland became a key logistical hub for military and humanitarian aid to Ukraine and accepted many refugees, it experienced a surge in cyber-attacks. During the first quarter of 2022, the number of cyber-attacks on Polish IT systems and networks surpassed the total for 2021. One significant attack involved Russia’s hackers targeting Polish subscribers of the Viasat satellite internet system. They disabled modems communicating with Viasat's satellite network, cutting off Ukraine’s military and population internet access. While Polish networks were affected, the impact was less severe compared to Ukraine. In addition to the Viasat attack spillovers, Poland faced deliberate cyber-attacks during the early stages of the war. 

Fourth, employment. Before World War II, Ukrainians had a significant presence in the Polish labor market. Despite the entry of around 150,000 war refugees into the Polish labor market, employing several hundred thousand more Ukrainians might not be straightforward. The recent influx mainly consisted of women with children, whereas pre-war workers from Ukraine in Poland were primarily men in male-dominated fields. This implies potential skill mismatches between available skills and labor market needs. Substantial training and retraining programs tailored to professional from Ukraine backgrounds will be essential to address this. Additionally, measures must be implemented to prevent workplace exploitation, bullying, and sexual harassment, given the scale of the influx and the vulnerable position of war refugees. 

Fifth, education and care for children. The challenge of providing education and care for children from Ukraine in Poland is significant, with potentially up to a million children requiring assistance. With proper support, caregivers, often mothers or family members, would likely be able to work. Unique solutions are needed, with a few existing models providing a foundation. The first model involves children from Ukraine following their home country's curriculum, requiring infrastructure for remote learning and recognition of teacher from Ukraine qualifications in Poland. The second model proposes preparatory classes to ready children from Ukraine for entry into Polish schools the following year. The third model focuses on children from Ukraine proficient in Polish, allowing them to attend Polish schools under the same conditions as local students. The choice of model should be left to parents, contingent on their child's proficiency in the Polish language.

Sixth, housing infrastructure. The main challenge in various scenarios involving war refugees is the provision of adequate housing infrastructure. Depending on the situation, having refugees rely primarily on private houses or apartments for shelter is not sustainable, especially in the short term. To address this issue, it is proposed to relocate refugees within the European Union, specifically within Poland, and establish modular housing estates. These housing estates would serve as temporary shelters for individuals without apartments, particularly during the autumn and winter. 

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