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When the war ends

Mar 16,2022 - Last updated at Mar 16,2022

Nearly three million Ukrainians have fled their countries since war erupted on February 24. Although they erected walls and barbed wire fences to keep out the million Syrians, Afghans, Somalis and Eritreans in 2014-2015, Poland has taken 1.7 million and Hungary 250,000. Romania has accepted 85,000 Moldova, 105,000, Slovakia 200,000 and other European Union (EU) countries a total of 305,000. Big Brexit Britain proudly proclaims it has allowed 1,000 to enter while little EU member Cyprus, the EU member hosting the most migrants per capita, has welcomed more than 3,000 Ukrainians.

Relatives living on the island have welcomed family members. The parents, sister and nieces of Tania, who lives in the port city of Larnaca, arrived on Sunday with their dog which was not quarantined. A niece's boyfriend came before the war began. Tania's relatives, who live in Kyiv, had a difficult time on their journey.

The minibus which took them to the Romanian border, abandoned 17 passengers, including children, who had to walk in the cold until they could find transport. Tania's mother, who is recovering from COVID, was severely taxed. Fortunately, they had friends in Bucharest where they could rest and recover until they booked a flight for Cyprus. Since Tanya has lived here for more than a decade, her family has visited before. They came and stayed a month in 2014 when Russia annexed Crimea and there was fighting in the Donbass region but this did not bloom into full-scale war. Tania's family intends to go back once Ukraine is at peace. Her father, an engineer, has a job to return to.

Like many European countries, Cyprus hosts large Ukrainian and Russian communities which have close, complicated ties. There are mixed marriages as well as cross-national employment. For example, A Ukrainian woman is married to a Russian man who is currently in trapped Moscow. She is employed by a sanctioned Russian company. This could deprive the family of her salary and means of livelihood. Since such families are not escapees from the war, they may be excluded from benefits accorded to refugees although a recently founded charity seeks to aid Ukrainians in difficulty.

There have been multiple protests in the capital, Nicosia, Larnaca and Paphos against the war attended by Ukrainians, Russians and Cypriots. Cypriots feel empathy for the Ukrainians and have contributed generously to a large shipment of food, medicine, blankets, shoes, and other items which is en route to Ukraine.

As an EU member, Cyprus has adopted the bloc's humanitarian directives by allowing entry to Ukrainians on the basis of identity documents. It is prepared to grant them three-year visas, and provide them with shelter, food and medicine. Children are to be admitted to Cypriot schools and students to universities and adults are to be allowed to secure employment. Cyprus has offered to host in COVID-emptied hotels another 2,500 Ukrainians who have been trapped in Egypt, unable to go home.

On the politico-economic front, Cyprus has joined EU boycotts of Russian oil, goods and produce. Petrol prices have risen and the government has ordered 36,000 tonnes of barley and corn to increase stocks because of Ukraine crisis has reduced grain availability.  Russia and Ukraine produce 25 per cent of global wheat as well large amounts of other grains.

Cyprus has also banned Russian commercial flights from its airports, creating difficulties for Russian residents to fly home. Russian ships cannot berth at Cypriot ports.

The expectation among European host countries is that Ukrainian refugees will stay abroad for a few weeks or months and not forever. It is estimated that 200,000 refugees have already gone back. When the war ends, they and Ukrainians displaced within the country will need massive injections of financial aid to rebuild lives, homes, villages, towns and cities. This effort is certain to be given priority over starving children in Yemen and Afghanistan. Their plight has already been erased from the consciousness of rich Western countries which seek to unburden themselves as quickly as possible of Ukrainian refugees. Empathy will fade soon. Poland, the country which has received the most Ukrainians, is already saying "enough" and calling for help. 

Ukrainians will not be allowed to stay forever in host countries like Palestinians expelled by Israel in 1948 and 1967 from their homeland. Their host countries are non-Europeans, therefore they do not really count as far as Europeans are concerned. Afghans and Syrians uprooted by conflicts in their home countries struggle to find safe destinations. Afghans have no prospect of going home until there is regime change and Syrians until sanctions are lifted and reconstruction begins.

UN and other humanitarian agencies providing aid for non-Ukrainians are starved for funds, especially those organisations working in Yemen. Palestinians, Syrians and Afghans are not white Europeans whose enemy is Russia, the successor of the Western-hated Soviet Union which dissolved between 1989-1991. Russia's President Vladimir Putin has been thoroughly demonised and blamed for an "unprovoked war" although he and Russia have been seriously provoked by Nato's eastern enlargement for decades. The West refused to pay attention and act to meet Russia's concerns.

Ukraine should have opted for military neutrality like Ireland, Switzerland, Sweden and Finland and built a Western-style democratic political system without joining the European Union, which Russia also sees as a provocation. If Ukraine had adopted this course, Russia might also have continued with its own democratisation process. The war has made this impossible. Dissent is already banned.

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