More than a million Ukrainian refugees have fled Russian rockets and tanks in recent days and many have chosen to stay in neighboring Poland, close to the homes they hope to one day return to and the fathers and sons they have had to leave behind.
But for those continuing their journey west, Germany is next. Just over a week into the war, Berlin has become a major hub for Ukrainian refugees, some traveling, others eager to settle here. The numbers have jumped in recent days. On Monday, the city administration reported finding beds for some 350 refugees. On Friday, more than 10,000 people arrived in the German capital by train and bus, and city authorities are preparing for more.
Several buses carrying 120 Jewish children from Odessa, many of them orphans, were among those that arrived in Berlin on Friday, where they were welcomed by the Jewish organization Chabad Berlin and put up in a hotel. The youngest was not born until January.
“We must be ready for this to be the biggest movement of people Europe has faced since the end of the Second World War,” said Katja Kipping, minister for social affairs in the regional administration of Berlin. “We have only seen the tip of the iceberg.”
The mobilization of volunteers and donations was rapid and remarkable. Across Germany, volunteers have set up special websites and social media channels to streamline help in areas ranging from transport to translation. The number of Berliners offering their help has been so great that volunteers are turned away.
In the previous crisis, Germany distinguished itself from most of its neighbors by opening its doors to refugees, a position which was used by the far right to create a powerful backlash and a political headache for then-Chancellor Angela Merkel. But in welcoming the wave of Ukrainians – fellow Europeans and mostly Christians, unlike the Syrians – Germany now has plenty of company, with Poland and Hungary, usually staunchly anti-immigrant, among those taking the lead.
German support takes many unexpected forms. Berlin, famous for its clubbing scene, is using the reopening of nightclubs this weekend after weeks of Covid-related closures as a fundraiser under the motto “Club culture united – Stand up for Ukraine”.