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Poland struggles to resettle wave of Ukraine refugees in Krakow

MILES PARKS, HOST:

As we just heard, Poland is one of the countries now hosting hundreds of thousands of Ukrainian refugees. That means Polish cities are scrambling to register the new arrivals and help them find housing, work and schools. NPR's Joanna Kakissis reports from Poland's second largest city, Krakow.

JOANNA KAKISSIS, BYLINE: Seventeen-year-old Galia Alachiva (ph) sips tea in a pop-up lunchroom tucked into an abandoned mall.

GALIA ALACHIVA: (Through interpreter) We eat here. We cook here. We sleep here. We do everything here.

KAKISSIS: She's from Odessa, the Ukrainian port city on the Black Sea. Galia and her mother have lived in this abandoned mall in Krakow since fleeing Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

ALACHIVA: (Through interpreter) I've heard there are more than a hundred thousand Ukrainians here in Krakow and that it's hard to find space for us. But, you know, I don't feel unwelcome at all.

KAKISSIS: Poland passed a law last month allowing Ukrainians to stay here for at least 18 months. Galia's mother, Sara Tarashanska, is a trained psychologist, and she counsels fellow Ukrainians eager to work in Krakow.

SARA TARASHANSKA: (Through interpreter) A third of the Ukrainians I've met here have university degrees, and more than half have technical degrees or training of some kind. The key is to find work you have been trained to do.

KAKISSIS: The city has set up a pop-up job placement center for the refugees in a sports arena. Radosaaw Strzelecki (ph) greets them here.

RADOSAAW STRZELECKI: (Through interpreter) Most of the available work we have is basic, like working at a warehouse or cleaning services. As you can see, we have a list here of only those jobs.

KAKISSIS: Nearby are rows of tables where volunteers help Ukrainians register for ID numbers. These help them access benefits and health care. The refugee relief efforts are coordinated by City Hall. Krakow's longtime mayor, Jacek Majchrowski, says it's increasingly challenging to find housing for the Ukrainians, most of whom are women and children.

JACEK MAJCHROWSKI: (Through interpreter) These children need to go to school. We have made space for them in our schools, but the problem is that they don't speak any Polish whatsoever. So we've hired some of the refugees who are teachers themselves to help.

(SOUNDBITE OF SCHOOL AMBIENCE)

KAKISSIS: At a nearby elementary school, 11-year-old Linda Voronaya walks down the hall with a Ukrainian teacher's aide.

LINDA VORONAYA: (Speaking Ukrainian).

KAKISSIS: Linda is from Kyiv, where she loved exploring parks with her friends. Her best friend here is 12-year-old Kristina Vitkovska, who is also from Kyiv.

KRISTINA VITKOVSKA: (Speaking Ukrainian).

KAKISSIS: She says she brought one thing with her from Ukraine, her father's sweater. He died a couple of years ago. Leaving Kyiv, she says, felt like she was leaving him. Principal Bozena Mikos embraces the girls and a few other Ukrainian kids outside her office.

BOZENA MIKOS: (Through interpreter) Our parents and students want those kids to feel welcome. We got them backpacks with all the essentials - notebooks, pens, markers, things like that. We offered them new clothes and free meals. We want to offer the students security, not just an education.

KAKISSIS: She says that many of the students tell her they don't want to stay in Poland, that they want to go back to Ukraine as soon as it's safe. But Krakow's mayor says he expects the city to host displaced Ukrainians for a long time.

MAJCHROWSKI: (Speaking Polish).

KAKISSIS: "We have found a place for the first wave of refugees," he says. But there are so many on the other side, in Ukraine, as this war keeps dragging on. Joanna Kakissis, NPR News, Krakow, Poland.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.