Ukrainian refugees face lasting exile as Russia’s war enters its third year

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File picture of refugees from Ukraine at the refugees registration centre in Berlin, Germany. UNHCR puts the number of Ukrainian refugees at 6 million, marking the biggest exodus in Europe since the Second World War.

File picture of refugees from Ukraine at the refugees registration centre in Berlin, Germany. UNHCR puts the number of Ukrainian refugees at 6 million, marking the biggest exodus in Europe since the Second World War.
| Photo Credit: Getty Images

Iryna, Maryna, Katya — three generations from one family — fled their home in southern Ukraine just after the war started, hoping to return quickly.

But two years later, these hopes are fading.

Just a few days ago, a fresh attack blew off the roofs of many buildings in their home city of Mykolaiv.

“Ukraine’s future is not clear. I think that the war will not stop, even in one or two years,” said Maryna Troshchenko, 43, while showing photos of the damage sent to her by relatives still living in the port city.

Ms. Troshchenko, her mother and her daughter, who all now live in Vienna, are among six million Ukrainian refugees, marking the biggest exodus in Europe since the Second World War, according to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

Germany and Poland host the largest populations, with about one million Ukrainian refugees in each country.

Incessant bombings and a lack of progress on the front make their return in the short term increasingly improbable.

‘Dilemma of waiting’

At refugee help organisation Diakonie in Austria, workers note that many Ukrainian refugees have decided to try to settle after being paralysed by the “dilemma of waiting” to return home. “For a long time, it was very difficult for them to decide how to proceed further,” Sarah Brandstetter, deputy at Diakonie’s Ukrainian refugee advice centre, said.

“Two years later, the situation has changed — people are now planning to stay in the country. They have their children here in schools. They want to build a future for themselves,” she added.

But the initial surge of solidarity is running out of steam in some places.

In Austria — which hosts some 80,000 Ukrainian refugees — “the increase of energy costs and high inflation was a game changer”, according to Christoph Riedl, a migration and integration expert at Diakonie.

In neighbouring Germany, anti-migration discourse is also on the rise amid a spike in the number of asylum-seekers from outside of Europe, weighing heavily on reception capacities.

Until March 2025, under EU rules, Ukrainians are eligible for temporary protection, a status allowing them access to the labour market, housing, and social and medical assistance.

But what is next, experts wonder. Mr. Riedl said the EU should agree now on a lasting status.



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