Back on the road: Ukrainian refugees must leave Bulgarian seaside hotels

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  • Many refugees had been housed in Black Sea resorts
  • Bulgaria tries to move them at the start of the summer season
  • Refugees ‘stressed’ by lack of information on upcoming moves

SUNNY BEACH, Bulgaria, June 3 (Reuters) – Anastasia Zaitseva waits with her two young children outside the Black Sea resort hotel she has been living in since March to board a bus for another travels to an unknown destination after fleeing the war in Ukraine.

She is one of tens of thousands of refugees Bulgarian authorities hoped to relocate by the end of May due to reduced subsidies and the start of the summer holiday season, when businesses along the coast of the Black Sea earn most of their money.

With her own cash strapped, Zaitseva, 35, and many others like her are counting on the Bulgarian authorities to relocate them even though they have no idea where they might end up.

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“We were checking our emails all day and waiting for information,” said Zaitseva, from Kremenchuk in central Ukraine, outside the Melia Sunny Beach hotel in the heart of Bulgaria’s largest resort on the black Sea.

“I have some money, but it is not enough to support the children. I am worried about where we will be sent. I need a kindergarten, a school, conditions for the children and a hospital,” said Zaitseva, whose husband stayed behind. in Ukraine to fight.

Nearly 7 million people have fled Ukraine since Russia invaded on February 24, creating Europe’s worst refugee crisis since the end of World War II. The fighting continues unabated and there is no sign of a ceasefire. Read more

“UNPRECEDENTED SUPPORT”

More than 100,000 Ukrainian refugees, mostly women and children, have fled to Bulgaria since the start of the war.

The government placed around 60,000 refugees in resorts during the low season in places such as the Melia Sunny Beach hotel. Its manager, Hristo Karailiev, said he had housed around 2,500 Ukrainians at one time.

Following government pressure to empty hotels, Karailiev said most of the refugees had left, except for some 175 who will stay as seasonal workers in the resort, which has sea views and swimming pools scattered on the ground.

“They are stressed by the unknown because they were not told until the last minute where they would be staying,” said Karailiev, whose 3,200-seat four-star hotel is popular with British tourists, Germans and Poles.

Bulgaria does not share a border with Ukraine, but many refugees have fled there via its northern neighbor Romania, which borders Ukraine, eager to stay relatively close to home in hopes of returning fast.

But with the summer tourist season approaching and the government slashing its daily 40 lev ($22) subsidy paid for each refugee to hotel owners, Ukrainians face a stark choice: return home, find their own housing or move to where the state can provide space. .

“Over the past three months, we have provided unprecedented support in very nice hotels,” Prime Minister Kiril Petkov said in May. “Bulgaria cannot offer such a luxurious stay endlessly.”

Initial plans to fly most refugees directly from Black Sea hotels to state-owned vacation accommodations – often far from cities – failed due to a lack of interest, officials said. Volunteer groups blamed a lack of information and poor communication of the plan.

While official data showed that over the past week around 16,000 refugees have returned to Ukraine, the government has changed tack and opened two temporary refugee camps near the Black Sea town of Burgas , and in Elhovo, near the Turkish border.

His approach has drawn criticism from opposition and volunteer groups while illustrating the challenges facing the European Union’s poorest member state as it turns to long-term refugee aid .

As of June 2, the government had placed some 3,000 refugees in state-owned facilities, and another 12,000 had been moved to smaller hotels that had taken out reduced state subsidies.

Many refugees, like 25-year-old Nadezhda Kuzmenko, who waits with her parents to board a bus to take them to new accommodation, expressed their gratitude to Bulgaria for accepting them, but also complained about the lack of information.

“They are keeping quiet about where we are going next,” said Kuzmenko, who arrived in the Black Sea city of Varna on March 17 after fleeing her town of Mykolaiv in southern Ukraine.

“In five minutes we’re going there and we still don’t know the location. I don’t know why they keep it a secret.”

($1 = 1.8297 leva)

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Editing by Michael Kahn and Gareth Jones

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.


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