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Ukrainian exile and European protection, the other side of the Russian invasion

The conference "Ukrainian exiles: the exemplary welcome of Europeans", organised by Voxeurop, yesterday welcomed the testimonies of several journalists and correspondents who witnessed the refugee movements
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MARTON MONUS/REUTERS  -   A Ukrainian mother with her child arriving at one of the main railway stations in Budapest, Hungary

There are no unharmed soldiers in any war, said the Argentinean writer José Narosky in one of his famous aphorisms. But history has already taught us, actively and passively, that it is not only the soldiers at the front lines who are condemned to suffer the agonies of war. Hundreds of thousands of civilians have faced, and continue to face, the consequences of conflict on a daily basis. 

In Eastern Europe, where the entry of Russian troops into Ukraine has kept the world on edge since 24 February, the situation for civilians has become critical - as it has in many other parts of the world. So far, more than 5 million Ukrainian citizens have been forced to flee their country to escape the ravages of war, and it is expected that, as long as the conflict continues, this number will continue to rise. 

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PHOTO/ATALAYAR - Catherine André, French journalist and contributor to Voxeurope, during her intervention as moderator in the videoconference "Ukrainian exiles: the exemplary welcome of Europeans"

This was the main topic addressed yesterday during the virtual conference "Ukrainian exiles: the exemplary welcome of Europeans" organised by the multilingual media Voxeurop, and in collaboration with the team of translators and interpreters of the Heinrich Böll Foundation Paris. The meeting was moderated by the French journalist Catherine André, and was attended by Fabien Perrier, French journalist and correspondent in Athens, and Gÿorgy Folk, Hungarian journalist and co-founder of the EUrologus media, although Oana Moisil, Romanian freelance journalist specialising in social issues and environmental problems, was absent.

In this sense, the main contributions of these professionals were based on their in-depth research work in some of the countries that have received the most Ukrainian refugees in recent weeks (Hungary, Romania, etc.), as well as on the compilation of testimonies and anecdotes from the populations that receive them. 

"How are Ukrainian refugees received in neighbouring countries?" began the moderator, Catherine André, giving Gÿorgy Folk the opportunity to explain the divergences between the governmental initiative and the citizens', local and NGO initiative. "So far, some 545,000 Ukrainian refugees have crossed the Hungarian borders", the journalist explained, but despite the fact that "Hungarian society has always been multi-ethnic and multicultural", the "nationalist policies and fear campaigns against immigration and refugees of Viktor Orbán's government" cannot be ignored

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PHOTO/ATALAYAR - Gÿorgy Folk, Hungarian journalist and co-founder of the EUrologus media, partner of the Voxeurope media, during his speech at the videoconference "Ukrainian exiles: the exemplary welcome of Europeans"

This imbalance between institutional and civilian positions - which Gÿorgy has already exposed in several of his articles - is something that Fabien Perrier also used to denounce. "When Ukrainian refugees were brought to the places, already reconditioned, where thousands of Syrian exiles were settled in 2014 and 2015, they refused to stay. 'This is no place for us,' many said," the journalist explained. 

Now, as the conflict continues, day by day, to drive more Ukrainians from their homes, and as the numbers of refugees grow with each passing hour, the fear is growing that these people - as has happened before with many other exile movements - will move from to the group of "those to blame for the economic problems". "When you have large movements of refugees over a long period of time, you have to be careful that people start to perceive them as reasons for different problems, or that some political parties take advantage of this to blame them for different problems," Perrier said. 

"Be careful that they become a 'scapegoat'," summarised moderator Catherine André.

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PHOTO/ATALAYAR - Fabien Perrier, French journalist, correspondent in Athens and contributor to the media Voxeurope, during his intervention in the videoconference "Ukrainian exiles: the exemplary welcome of the Europeans"

Although, according to Fabien Perrier, the cultural, religious and ethnic proximity between Ukrainian exiles and neighbouring societies could mitigate this reality. A theory that was supported by Gÿorgy's testimony when he emphasised the differences in treatment between ethnically Slavic Ukrainians and Roma upon their arrival in Hungary. In fact, the French journalist used the moment to criticise all the differences in the treatment of refugees in Europe.

Until now, as we watched hundreds of African refugees being pushed back to the sea, facing a fate that almost always ended in death, a significant part of our societies considered that Europe could not cope with such huge waves of exiles, said Perrier. However, the current situation has shown that "Europe is more than ready to accept refugees and to help them in a very, very short time". "Why haven't we done so up to now? "What is the difference between Ukrainian refugees and other refugees?" 

Citizen solidarity is being admirable and fundamental at the moment, but, as concluded, the role of governments and official institutions must be strengthened so as not to leave in the lurch the hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians who, if the war does not end, will continue to cross the borders in the coming weeks.