More than six months after the Russian invasion of Ukraine began, somewhere between 1.5 to 2 million Ukrainian refugees are currently sheltering in Poland. As fewer and fewer refugees arrive in recent months, Poland is shifting its focus from immediate help to integration and creating an environment for Ukrainian families to start healing. Poland’s largest insurance company, state-owned PZU, has been running summer camps in the Masurian Lakeland District in north-eastern Poland this year for more than 300 Polish and Ukrainian children.
As of 2 July, more than 1.2 million Ukrainians had received a national identity number in Poland (PESEL) giving them access to social welfare and the Polish labor market. According to official PESEL figures, 46.5% of Ukrainian refugees are children. Initiatives giving Polish and Ukrainian children the chance to get to know each other have been launched across the country. The Polish insurance giant PZU, in which the State Treasury holds nearly 35% of shares, paved the way by organizing PZU Dobre Kolonie summer camps.
As soon as the school year ended, the first group of what would become more than 300 Polish and Ukrainian children traveled to the Masurian Lakeland District in north eastern Poland, where they were able to learn outdoor sports such as windsurfing, sailing, kayaking and archery while getting to know each other. According to the Latin phrase, “mens sana in corpore sano” (a healthy mind in a healthy body), the children have been taught the benefits of leading a healthy lifestyle.
On 11 August, Poland’s most famous TV chef and Michelin star restaurateur Wojciech Modest Amaro visited the children at their summer camp in the picturesque village of Wilimy for a day that was spent learning how to cook healthy and tasty dishes from Poland and Ukraine. The star chef stated that the event had brought the children together, saying “it was a pleasure to combine the flavors of Polish and Ukrainian cuisine together with our young cooks who were so eager to learn. We showed the children that there isn’t much distance between us.”
Amaro was not the only one to be glad that the Ukrainian children were able to spend part of their summer vacation in beautiful and peaceful surroundings. Poland’s Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of State Assets, Jacek Sasin, said he is proud that companies which the state has a stake in are helping young Ukrainians in need. Sasin added, “thanks to the PZU summer camps, children from Ukraine and Poland can spend their summer holiday together and integrate. It makes it possible for Ukrainian children to take their minds off the hell of war that is taking place across our eastern border.”
Polish schools are welcoming hundreds of thousands of new Ukrainian students for the new school year. Around 200,000 Ukrainian children started Polish schools in the spring semester, but the Ministry of Education estimates that another 200,000 to 300,000 Ukrainian children will study at Polish schools from September. PZU hopes that it will be a bit easier for the Ukrainian children who attended their camps to make new friends in school, having already spent some valuable time with Polish children.