Ukrainian refugees in Warsaw, Poland, on February 28, 2022. Photo Credit: Grand Warszawski /

Europe is facing a vast humanitarian crisis and it is not entirely clear that western European governments have fully grasped the implications of that fact. More than 3.5 million Ukrainian refugees have entered the EU and Moldova so far: 1 million per week and 150 thousand people daily. Half of them are children. Around five million refugees are expected to have entered by the end of March. With the Russian bombardment of Kyiv ongoing and Odessa targeted next, that figure is expected to double.

By way of comparison: in 2015, around 1.3 million refugees arrived in Europe via Greece, over half a million of whom were accepted by Germany alone. The EU’s invocation of the Temporary Protection Directive – passed after the Yugoslav wars but never used until now – will ease the situation, though many in the Middle East are understandably asking what makes Ukraine different to Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan. For those with an interest in undermining the legitimacy of the EU, that question comes as a gift.

The directive requires member states to allocate refugees among them according to capacity. Protection is offered for three years, during which time refugees can live and work in the EU. But Ukraine’s immediate neighbors will not be able to handle the influx on their own: particularly Poland and Moldova are already on the brink.

Without an extraordinary effort of coordination on the part of the EU, there are soon likely to be chaotic scenes in Berlin and Vienna too. Gerald Knaus, the chairman of the European Stability Initiative and an influential figure in European refugee policy, has called for an airlift to countries in western Europe and beyond. The 1948 comparison is apt; only now it’s about getting people out.

Unlike in 2015, European citizens are unanimous in their solidarity with the refugees. Public opinion counts. In Poland especially, neighborliness is everywhere to be seen, despite all the historical baggage between the two countries. This time, there is a good chance that member state governments will rise to the challenge. If only because it is all too clear that uncontrolled mass migration is one prong in Russia’s hybrid war against ‘the West’.

This article was originally published by Eurozine.

Simon Garnett is the senior editor at Eurozine.