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When Home Is a Ferry Ship: An Influx From Ukraine Strains Europe

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Isabel’s duty-free shop on Deck 7 has been transformed into storage lockers and pantries, suitcases are stacked in the perfume section, and refrigerated display cases are packed with labeled grocery bags. The ship’s closed casino has become a hangout for teenagers. Also at the Starlight Palace nightclub on Deck 8, women gather to camouflage his nets for the Ukrainian soldiers back home.

Diana Kossenko ties strips of fabric in green, brown and maroon to a net stretched over a metal frame where two-year-old Emilia is pulling her knees, “making them feel closer.” said.

For the past three months, Kotsenko and her daughter have been living on the Isabel, a 561-foot cruise ship leased by the Estonian government. 48,000 refugees People who have arrived in the tiny Baltic state since Russia invaded Ukraine in February.

The ship, which once carried passengers overnight between Stockholm and Riga, Latvia, is now docked next to Terminal A in the port city of Tallinn, the capital of Estonia. Its 664 cabins hold about 1,900 people. Most of them are women and children, roaming back and forth through the ship’s cavernous cargo doors.

Residents are just a few more 6.3 million Ukrainian immigrants to Europe. Their fate shows that the flood of refugees is straining countries that have welcomed them.

Isabelle was leased to Estonian shipping company Tallink in April as an emergency shelter for four months. However, the government has extended her contract until October because there is no other place for residents.

The shortage of homes for refugees is creating intense pressure across the continent and the UK. Affordable housing is in short supply and rents are rising.

In Scotland, the government announced last month. pause the program To sponsor Ukrainian refugees due to lack of accommodation. In the Netherlands, dozens of refugees sleep on the grass outside the overcrowded refugee center in the village of Tel Apel. on monday, Dutch Refugee Council It announced plans to sue the government over conditions at shelters it said fell short of minimum legal standards.

Of all the challenges facing Ukrainians who have fled to safe havens, the most pressing issue is access to housing. Organization for Economic Development and CooperationGiven rising inflation, the problem of finding long-term accommodation will only get worse, the report concludes.

“Early evidence suggests that lack of housing is the main motivation for refugees to return to Ukraine, despite security risks,” it said.

Already struggling to accommodate refugees and asylum seekers from other parts of the world, governments set up emergency reception facilities, rented hotels and provided financial support to host families. But with reception centers overflowing, countries are forced to fight for other solutions. Schools, hostels, sports stadiums, cargo containers, tents and even cruise ships have become makeshift accommodations.

In Estonia, the government enlisted Tallink, which in the past has leased ships as temporary housing for construction projects, military personnel and events. One detained a police officer during a seven-person conference in the UK last year. Another one of his was chartered at the World Climate Conference in Glasgow last fall.

The Scottish government turned to Tallink when it faced its own refugee housing crisis.And last week the first group of Ukrainians Transfer to Tallink ship Docked at Edinburgh Harbour.

Holland also uses cruise ships. In April, 1,500 refugees moved to a Holland America Line ship docked in Rotterdam. Last week, the government’s asylum agency announced it was planning to: 2 additional charters 7 months from Tallink.

Floating solutions are sometimes greeted with skepticism and even hostility. Before the Tallink ship reached Scotland, news account I breathlessly warned about the risk of the Covid-19 outbreak.

The Dutch government now abandoned proposal Place refugees on ships anchored offshore in the open sea, making it difficult for people to land.

Isabel has not been used in Tallinn due to travel restrictions since the start of the pandemic in 2020 before it was used for refugees. Natalie Shevchenko has been living here since April. She searched for an apartment in town, but she was unable to find one that was affordable.

Shevchenko, a psychologist from Kyiv, has worked with mothers and children on board to help them adjust.

“When you live on a ship, it’s like a big community,” she said.

On a recent evening there was a constant stream of people entering and leaving the ship after a short stop at the security desk to have their IDs scanned. On Deck 8, diners lingered over coffee at the Grand Her Buffet. “The food is delicious,” Shevchenko said. “Lots of desserts, cakes and ice creams.”

In the lounge area, a dozen people sat in front of the TV watching news from Ukraine. A group of his chattering teens roamed the long deck or sprawled in chairs near his empty blackjack table at the casino. Two floors down, near the staircase where the strollers are parked, two boys giggled in front of their mother’s watchful eyes as the children played games spread out on a blue and white carpet. I was sliding down a short brass railing.

Volunteers donated toys, clothes and strollers and organized activities and excursions. On deck 10, refugees can meet with social services workers. Bulletin boards around the ship were filled with announcements in Ukrainian about summer camps, free exhibitions, and language and cultural courses. The newly named Freedom School will begin Ukrainian and Estonian classes in the fall. Last weekend, a practice clinic was held with the participation of players from Estonian football clubs.

When Shevchenko needs solitude, she escapes to one of the lower car decks. She shares a claustrophobic sixth-floor cabin and bathroom with another woman she didn’t know before. The beds are closer than an airplane aisle. Bags, shoes and boxes are stuffed under the bed. White ropes criss-cross the walls to dry laundry.

“This is our kitchen,” Shevchenko said with a laugh, pointing to a shelf of bottled water and soda. A flowerpot, a gift for her recent 34th birthday from the Estonian psychologist she works with, sits on the windowsill.

“We are lucky to have windows,” she said. Some cabins on the lower deck do not. It’s a problem for people who have had to take refuge underground in Ukraine, she said. “Some people have panic attacks.”

A little further down the door is the cabin that Olga Vasilieva and her 6-year-old son share with another mother and son. The two women spread out her bunk bed on the upper level to store toys, bags and snacks, and sleep with the children on the narrow bed below. Larger cabins are for families with 3 or more children.

One of the benefits of living with many families is that there are many children to play with. “He has many friends,” Vasilieva said, asking Shevchenko to translate.

Vasilieva wants to go home before the school year starts, but it’s not safe right now. Vasilieva said she had two jobs in Ukraine but now she is not working because there is no one to look after her son. She said she receives about 400 euros monthly from the Estonian government. About 100 refugees work in kitchens and households in Tallink. Others found work in town.

Inna Aristova, 54, and her husband Hryhorii Akizhely, 64, arrived in May after a grueling trek from Melitopol and work in the laundry sorting sheets and towels. They were unable to find affordable apartments.

“I feel like a guest in this country,” said Aristova.

Her eyes filled with tears. Her deepest concerns center around her 21-year-old son, who is in the military. She doesn’t know where he is, but it’s a security precaution, but they try to text and talk as often as possible.

“He’s so young,” she said. “I think about him every day.” Shevchenko, who was her translator, bent over and hugged her.

At Starlight Palace, Kossenko and several mothers and teenagers worked to create a camouflage net, cutting and pasting cloth. Once completed, the cover will be sent to the Kherson region in southeastern Ukraine to hide the tanks from Russian bombers.

Kotsenko also does not know where her husband is stationed in Ukraine. She and her daughter escaped from the besieged city of Mikolaiv.

Another woman from the same city took out her cell phone and put Mikola Eve on the map. An animated red burst marked the location, indicating fierce fighting.

She had just received a long text from a neighbor, containing a series of photographs showing the bloody corpses of people and dogs lying in the street, killed by Russian artillery shells that morning.

Some of the women Shevchenko consulted told her they had decided to return to Ukraine. However, she said, “dreams about your home” may not match reality.

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