Crowds Line Train Stations in Germany and Poland to Welcome Ukrainian Refugees into their Homes


Lara received a call in the middle of the night on Saturday and headed straight to Berlin’s main train station.

There she was met by a woman and her two teenage sons who had fled the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

“Right now they are staying at our place,” Lara, who preferred to only use her first name, told the ABC.

The 32-year-old said she was uncertain how long the family would be staying in the spare room of the apartment she shares with her husband and two boys.

There are language barriers, but they are doing what they can to bring some comfort to their guests.

“They were super tired and hungry, and the first thing they wanted to do was take a shower and go to bed,” Lara said.

“They were so exhausted, because they were travelling for around 16 hours.”

People have fled all corners of Ukraine as Russian shelling continues to intensify, relentlessly raining down on cities and residential areas.

What started as a trickle has turned into a flood of people arriving daily at neighbouring countries amid the biggest ground war in Europe since World War II.

More than 2 million refugees have already crossed from Ukraine into eastern Poland, Slovakia, Hungary and northern Romania since the start of the invasion 13 days ago, according to the United Nations.

But with the stream of refugees has come an outpouring of support.

A growing army of volunteers has been turning out to provide meals, clothes, translation assistance and accommodation.

Chain of support working ‘within minutes’
More than 50,000 people who fled Ukraine have so far registered in Germany, according to the interior ministry.

Germany’s main railway operator Deutsche Bahn (DB) is offering refugees free travel, and Berlin has become a hub for arrivals from neighbouring Poland.

Ukrainian refugees can use around 40 trains free of charge from Poland, Austria or the Czech Republic to get to several German cities, a spokesperson for Deutsche Bahn told the ABC.

They can then use the free “helpukraine” ticket to reach other destinations in Germany, Switzerland and the European Union.

“About a third of all refugees arriving in Berlin have already used that ticket,” the spokesperson said.

“DB offers around 7,500 places daily for refugees on its trains.”

Vanessa Sanchez was volunteering at a Berlin train station last week when she came across a couple with their seven-month-old baby.

“They were refugees from Afghanistan who fled to Ukraine two years ago so their situation was doubly hard,” she said.

They were already exhausted and waiting in a ticket line of 500 people to travel another 10 hours across Germany when Ms Sanchez offered them a place to stay.

“I just called my boyfriend really quick and said ‘OK, look, this is the situation. Can we just take them in for the one night?'” the 39-year-old said.

Ms Sanchez helped the family arrange travel and accommodation at their next location through what has become a “super weird” chain of strangers connecting to provide support.

“It’s incredible how this works within minutes,” she said.

“I called a guy I met at the train station the day before … he asked one person who asked the next person and then you’ve got someone calling you back offering help.”

The family had been through a harrowing ordeal so Ms Sanchez didn’t ask too many questions.

“I just tried to make them feel safe and that they don’t need to worry about anything,” she said.

“I know that they are now safe with a family in Freiberg and they are most likely going to stay there.”

A ‘ghost train’ to Poland opens doors to Denmark
In neighbouring Poland, at Przemysl rail station – near the Poland-Ukraine border – hundreds of war-weary travellers are arriving daily in search of food, warmth and somewhere to sleep.

The large Ukrainian diaspora in Poland and beyond means many have somewhere to go.

But countless more have no family or friends outside Ukraine, and are relying on the goodwill of aid organisations and the kindness of complete strangers.

One Danish couple and a friend were on the road for more than 15 hours to bring food, blankets and other supplies to refugees sheltering near the border.

They stood on the train platform holding a cardboard sign offering accommodation for a couple of Ukrainians wanting a place to stay in Denmark.

“We want to help the best way we can,” the Danish man said.

“Of course it affects us and it’s really close to us in Denmark.”

Julia Valya, who fled the bombing in Kyiv, checked their passports and credentials – for assurance they’re not people traffickers – then was happy to travel with them to Denmark.

“I’ll be there for some time, but I hope I will be able to return home,” Ms Valya said.

Last week European Union interior ministers agreed to grant temporary residency to Ukrainians sparing them from going through lengthy asylum procedures.

It also means responsibility for the refugees is more evenly shared among all 27 EU member states.

Poland has also approved legislation offering financial help to refugees and allowing them to stay legally in the country for 18 months.

Irina Serdiuk travelled with her six-year-old son and their pet cat from Kramatorsk, in eastern Ukraine, close to areas that came under aerial attack.

They spent 20 hours on a so-called “ghost train” – crawling along with no lights on, to lessen the chance of being bombed.

Now she faces another long rail journey from Poland.

“I want to go to Czechia (Czech Republic),” Ms Serdiuk told the ABC.

“I don’t know why. I don’t know anybody in Czechia or Poland.”

Refugee influx sparks safety concerns for women
While some people are meeting refugees as they arrive, others like Lara have registered their information and accommodation offerings on online platforms.

One such platform in Germany is Unterkunft Ukraine, which was launched days after the fighting broke out.

After it blew up on social media over its first weekend, the independently-run site now has more than 200,000 people across Germany ready to welcome refugees into their homes.

“We were overwhelmed by the solidarity of the people, which is insane and it’s great,” Unterkunft Ukraine spokesperson Stefanie Kindler said.

As individuals do what they can to fill in the gaps, humanitarian organisation CARE has warned that exploitation, abuse and trafficking is a real concern.

“While we applaud the goodwill of host communities and volunteers, getting in a stranger’s car or staying in a house with someone unknown creates obvious risks, especially for women and young girls travelling on their own,” said CARE’s emergency media manager, Ninja Taprogge.

Speaking from the Romanian border with Ukraine, CARE response team leader Valentina Mirza told the ABC they were working with local authorities and partners on the ground to ensure services could be validated.

“They’re also doing spot checks in the host communities … giving them flyers with information of where they can call if they’re coming across anything suspicious,” she said.

She said it was important that refugees were fully aware of their rights and have their correct papers.

Ms Kindler said Unterkunft Ukraine conducted personal screenings.

Ukrainians can currently reside in Germany for 90 days without a visa.

German authorities are setting up a system where Ukrainians will be able to register as refugees in the coming days.

This will give them the right to stay in Germany for a year and access to accommodation, financial support and medical care.


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