Poland is setting up reception centers and hospitals to deal with the expected rush of people fleeing the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the Polish government said Thursday.
The Russian military launched attacks across Ukraine on Thursday, including near the city of Lviv, just 85 kilometers from the Polish border.
The government is setting up eight reception centers near crossing points on the 500-kilometer Polish-Ukrainian border, which should be ready by the afternoon.
“We have to be ready, the next 24 hours will be key,” Deputy Internal Affairs Minister Paweł Szefernaker said on Thursday morning. Poland will make sure refugees receive food, medical help and information at the centers, he said.
Adam Niedzielski, the health minister, said Poland will set up a special medical train to ferry injured people to 120 Polish hospitals. “We think that at this moment it would be possible to accept several thousand patients — wounded in military actions,” he said.
There were no immediate reports of a surge of people trying to cross into Poland; Szefernaker said Poland’s border crossings with Ukraine were only moderately busy.
“At this moment we aren’t yet seeing an inflow of refugees from Ukraine. Border crossings are operating normally,” Andriy Deshchitsa, Ukraine’s ambassador to Warsaw, told Poland’s Dziennik Gazeta Prawna newspaper.
However, the Polish press reported that a train from Kyiv pulled in to the main Warsaw rail station on Thursday morning filled with panicked people.
About 1.5 million Ukrainians already live in Poland — coming to take advantage of the tight labor market and a similar language. The government said in early February that it would accept even 1 million Ukrainian refugees if necessary.
Earlier this month, the Polish government also instructed mayors to submit details on how many refugees they could house and what that would cost, tweeted Krzysztof Kosiński, the mayor of Ciechanów in north-central Poland.
Ukrainians have the right to visa-free entry into the EU and Poland’s geographical and cultural closeness makes it the destination of choice of people fleeing the war.
Poland has little experience with asylum seekers. The Office for Foreigners’ most recent data covering the first nine months of 2021 shows just 5,200 people applied for international protection, a term that includes being recognized as a refugee or being granted subsidiary protection.
Poland’s nationalist government has refused to take part in past EU efforts to relocate and resettle asylum seekers arriving in other member countries.
The German government offered to help with any influx of refugees.
“I am in close contact with the Polish government and the EU Commission on possible refugee movements,” tweeted German Interior Minister Nancy Faeser. “The EU’s humanitarian aid coordination and support mechanisms are already in place to ensure that aid to Ukraine’s neighboring countries is delivered very quickly.”
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