Fewer refugees - increasing need

The number of refugees is decreasing - also in Ukraine itself. But especially there, the supply situation is becoming increasingly precarious. Relief transports have therefore gained in importance in the work of the United Methodist Church.
According to the UNHCR, around 6.7 million people have fled Ukraine. The number of refugees is still high - almost 1.2 million according to UNHCR in May. At the same time, the number of people returning has risen sharply. The UNHCR estimates that nearly 2.2 million Ukrainians have returned to their country.
Methodist leaders working with refugees cannot give exact numbers. However, Luca Bírtalan, coordinator of Methodist work with refugees in Hungary, reports that the number of refugees accommodated by the UMC has decreased significantly. Within Ukraine itself, leaders report a similar trend. The number of internally displaced persons in the western part of Ukraine is decreasing. People are either returning to the places they came from or trying to find refuge in Western Europe.
Nevertheless, the supply situation in western Ukraine is deteriorating. The need for food, medical items (for wound treatment, for example), shoes or vests is increasing. Many things are no longer available in the country. For the relief efforts of the UMC in Poland, Hungary, Czechia, Slovakia and Romania, the compilation and dispatch of humanitarian aid transports has therefore become increasingly important. In doing so, they also keep an eye on population groups that otherwise receive little attention. Part of the humanitarian aid transports organized by Russian-speaking UMC in Prague goes to the Sumy region in the northeastern part of Ukraine. A pastor and chaplain who looks after prisons in this region is thus able to provide prisoners with food, medicine and hygiene articles.
However, according to Rares Calugar, superintendent of the UMC in Romania, transporting medicines and medical equipment from Romania to Ukraine could soon become more difficult. He mentions restrictions that might be imposed by the Romanian state on the export of such supplies. The leaders of the UMC will continue to explore the situation, as they want to continue to send urgently needed medical supplies to a hospital in Ukraine.
In the countries directly or indirectly bordering Ukraine, social tensions related to the large number of refugees are becoming more evident. Karel Nyerges, director of Diakonia UMC in Czechia, reports that voices are being raised in his country asking: "Why are people from Ukraine receiving aid - and we're not?" He also said the number of fake news stories has increased.
A new humanitarian aid center is being built in Jihlava, 130 kilometers southeast of Prague, the capital of Czechia. It will be not only for people from Ukraine, but also for single-parent families from the Jihlava region. The Methodist leaders also see this as a contribution to reducing unnecessary social tensions.
An important task remains to accompany the refugees who stay for a longer time in the countries bordering on Ukraine. Thus, the UMC in Romania continues to care for orphans from Ukraine, elderly people housed in an Orthodox monastery near Cluj-Napoca, and other "guests" from Ukraine living in various places.
Karel Nyerges is grateful that the Methodist facilities in Czechia, where Ukrainian refugees are housed long-term, are running smoothly. "The people here are safe and have all the basics for a good life," he says. But that doesn't change the fact that these people are still "in a mess", he adds.  Even if they had a place to live, they would constantly struggle with inner insecurity, anxiety and fear. "I see this war crisis as an opportunity to realize the value of human life and to help those who need it most at this moment."
Source: Sigmar Friedrich, Zurich / Urs Schweizer, Zurich