Resentment on the Western Front
There is growing bitterness among Poles toward Ukrainian refugees, owing to fears about rising housing prices and other economic problems. Worse, the country’s media and political establishments have largely ignored the issue, all but ensuring that it will become a ticking bomb in Poland’s politics.
WARSAW – Poland is home to about 2.7 million refugees from Ukraine: 1.2 million arrived after 2014, and a further 1.5 million arrived following Russia’s invasion on February 24. By comparison, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees reports that Germany has taken in one million Ukrainians, the Czech Republic 464,000, and several other countries 200,000 or less. As of mid-October, some 4.7 million Ukrainians had registered for temporary protection outside their country.
For their part, Ukrainians – both in Poland and at home – constantly express gratitude to Poles for their welcoming response following the invasion and for the military aid that Poland has furnished since then. Yet it is the Ukrainians who deserve thanks. They are the ones fighting and dying not only for their own freedom but also for Poland’s. Nonetheless, interviews that Przemysław Sadura and I have conducted reveal growing resentment among Poles toward these refugees.
It is a resentment that features some grim paradoxes and ultimately has little to do with the Ukrainians themselves. Poles are concerned about being deprioritized in the allocation of public benefits and services, such as health care and education, and many object to Ukrainians receiving national identification numbers, free public transport, and other benefits. There is a belief that such “generosity” will discourage refugees from returning home, thus overburdening already-inefficient public services and taking jobs from Poles.