First Ukrainian refugees arrive in Latvia

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The first refugees from Ukraine have arrived in Rīga – several families assisted by the Latvian Samaritan Association, Latvian Radio reports. 

All refugees have arrived from Kyiv, and several more groups are still on their way to Latvia. None of the refugees plan to stay here for a long time, says Andris Bērziņš, director of the Latvian Samaritan Association, who said the first arrivals have either been to Latvia before, have friends or acquaintances here, or have had some other kind of connection.

Residents of Latvia, and especially Rīga, are invited to participate in the accommodation of refugees as much as possible. This work is coordinated by the non-governmental organization "Gribu palīdzēt bēgļiem" ("I want to help refugees")

A questionnaire for potential hosts is available on the social network Facebook, and Egils Grasmanis, the founder of the "I want to help refugees" movement, said that so far, around 500 people have completed the survey.

"There are people who are ready to give refugees the keys to their apartments or houses free of charge," he said.

The Banking Institution of Higher Education is also ready to help with the accommodation of refugees. According to the rector, Līga Peisiniece, there are 85 vacancies in the student dormitory. The university is ready to accommodate refugees for several months if necessary.

"We have a service hotel, where in each unit there is a bathroom, so it is possible to accommodate several members of the same family. The kitchen is common to everyone - on the mezzanine floor. But I don't think that's an obstacle. People will be able to take refuge in the warm during these difficult times for them," Peisiniece said.

On arrival at the Latvian border, refugees are asked to turn to the border guards for help, who will then pass the information on to the municipality.

The Riga City Council website has a section "Support for Ukraine", which contains all relevant information in Latvian and Ukrainian. In turn, the Department of Education, Culture and Sports collects information on the availability of places in schools where refugee children can be admitted, including Rīga's Ukrainian school.

Riga Deputy Mayor Linda Ozola (New Conservative Party) said: "First of all, it is necessary to provide opportunities for refugee children to study in minority schools. It is very important that these children, who have already experienced great stress, get used to it as soon as possible. Of course, there is also the issue of additional Latvian language lessons."

Given that many Ukrainians traveled with their pets, the Food and Veterinary Service has eased the conditions for bringing animals into Latvia . The local shelters are also ready to accommodate the animals.

A public donation drive to help Ukraine on the charity donation website, has raised more than 1.3 million euros in just 2 days. It is operating in cooperation with the Ministry of Defense, and it is planned to use the money to send fuel and first aid goods to Ukraine.

Latgale ready to help

Though it's likely many refugees will make for the Latvian capital, other parts of the country have also taken practical measures to help accomodate them.

The chairman of Rēzekne district council Monvīds Švarcs (New Unity/For!/Latgale party) said that the first step in providing assistance - identification of accommodation premises - has already been taken in the region.

"Our small contribution we can offer is to accommodate Ukrainian people in the region if necessary. The actual place is the building of the former Adamov school, where it is possible to accommodate 100 people in good enough conditions," said Švarcs.

In case there are more refugees, the municipality also has its own B option.

"Right now, these are really the 100 places we can provide, but if there is an objective situation where more people will need to be accommodated, there are, of course, more rooms that can be adapted for this task. For example, Malta high school boarding school with 70 places, but this will affect the work of the school, and there are other buildings and facilities that can be offered, all of which require much greater capital investment in terms of both sanitation and the equipment needed to accommodate people there. The owners of the guest houses in the district have also given their consent to accommodate people if necessary," said Švarcs.

Augšdaugava region has been living in a state of emergency for several months, declared due to the activities of the Belarus regime's illegal migration hybrid operation. According to Arvīds Kucins (Daugavpils district party), the actions of the neighboring country against Ukraine are consequently even more alarming.

"It's a bad mood because we already have Belarus on the sidelines, and it's a country aggressor attacking Ukraine. As for refugees, there could be two places where we could accommodate 80-90 people. There's Silene primary school building (about 30 places) and the dormitories of Višķi, which are partially inhabited. There are about 60 places," says Kucins.

The Ministry of the Interior has advocated that Latvia issue humanitarian visas to potential refugees from Ukraine with the right to work in Latvia. However, as emphasized by the Chairman of Daugavpils City Council Andrejs Elksniņš (Harmony party), information on employment opportunities for refugees in Daugavpils municipality is still being sought.

"Such possibilities are currently being identified. First of all, it should be reminded that it is not about readiness, but about possibility. Currently Daugavpils municipality in cooperation with the Ministry of the Interior is identifying possible places for refugees. We have contacted Daugavpils University which is ready to accommodate from 70 to 90 people for two months in the summer."

Latvia could allocate 34.7 million euros for the reception of potential Ukrainian refugees and government has prepared a plan that envisages taking in about 10,000 people.


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