We must do more to help those straddling two lives - Jane Bradley

Unlike those involved in some of the other refugee crises of recent years, most people fleeing Ukraine are not hoping to put down roots in new countries for good.

Volunteers with green jackets provide assistance to Ukrainians fleeing the war in Ukraine as they disembark from a train coming from Warsaw at Hauptbahnhof main railway station in Berlin, Germany, in March.
Volunteers with green jackets provide assistance to Ukrainians fleeing the war in Ukraine as they disembark from a train coming from Warsaw at Hauptbahnhof main railway station in Berlin, Germany, in March.

When visiting refugee camps in Europe at the peak of the Middle East refugee crisis, most of the families I met there from countries such as Afghanistan and Syria were just that: families. They had made the decision to leave a difficult life behind and start afresh somewhere else – together.

Yet Ukrainians are far less likely to look for a very long term solution and for a good reason. Under Ukrainian laws, men aged between 18 and 65 are not allowed to leave the country. They have to stay behind in Ukraine in case they are needed to contribute to the war effort.

As a result, many of the women and children who have left are only doing so until it is safe to return to their male family members back home – and their old life.

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A survey published this week by the United Nations refugee arm, UNHCR, demonstrates this. In the report, 'Lives on Hold: Profiles and Intentions of Refugees from Ukraine’, the organisation found that two thirds plan to return home to Ukraine once it is safe to do so, with 16 per cent saying they expect to go in the next two months. The refugees questioned were not living in the UK, they were sheltering in countries surrounding Ukraine, where the bulk of refugees are housed, although the trend is likely to be similar here.

Of course, when it is likely to be safe for them to return depends hugely on exactly where they are from in Ukraine – and their family situations.

Meanwhile, straddling two lives has to be stressful. Many refugee families I have spoken to say their children are likely to continue with some online school from their home country – as well as school in Scotland – to ensure that they are not behind on the Ukrainian curriculum when they return.

The level of flexibility and resilience is to be admired. We need to do what we can to help them while they are here.

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