When Russia invaded Mariupol, Ukraine, in late February 2022, Iryna and her 5-year-old daughter Kira packed in a hurry and fled to the outskirts of the city to stay with family. They hoped to wait out the war and return to their happy life full of weekend trips to the sea and picnics with friends, but a month of living in constant fear pushed Iryna to make an unimaginable choice. She decided to leave her beloved Mariupol behind to forge a safer future for her daughter.
“I could not live like this. I got in the car and drove all the way to Poland,” she says.
Nearly 7 million people have shared Iryna and Kira’s harrowing decision to leave their homeland since the onset of the war in Ukraine in February 2022.
But many families crossing the border into neighbouring countries in search of stability face a harsh reality: They have no decent, affordable place to call home.
Habitat leveraged three decades in Central and Eastern Europe to immediately take action to help ease those housing concerns.
In each country where Habitat for Humanity is responding to the crisis — Poland, Romania, Hungary, Germany and Slovakia — we have worked to support the short-, medium- and long-term housing and humanitarian needs of refugees from Ukraine.
Across the region, our collective efforts — matching refugees with host families, opening a housing information kiosk, offering hotel and public transportation vouchers, transforming a Habitat ReStore into a furniture and appliance distribution centre, delivering emergency travel kits, and more — have helped thousands of refugees secure temporary, interim and permanent shelter while adjusting to life in a new country.
Habitat’s focus on strengthening and developing rental support programmes has been particularly impactful. In Poland, the country hosting the most refugees from Ukraine, Habitat has expanded our social rental programme. Through the programme, Habitat Poland acts as a mediating agent, leasing units and renting them at affordable rates.
The programme has been tailored for refugees from Ukraine, who will need a larger subsidy at the outset as they settle into a new community. After two and a half months of bouncing between temporary accommodations in small Polish villages, Iryna’s search for long-term housing in Warsaw led her to Habitat Poland. Through the social rental programme, Habitat Poland quickly found the mother and daughter a spacious apartment in a conveniently located neighbourhood in Poland’s capital. Iryna immediately knew she was home.
“I loved this apartment the moment I saw it,” Iryna says. “It is a safe and comfortable place to stay, a haven of peace and quiet. It feels like home.” Iryna says securing housing was the springboard her family needed to get their life restarted in Poland. “You cannot move forward until you have shelter for you and the people who depend on you,” she says.
“I knew I could start looking for a job and a day care centre for my daughter. What Habitat did for me gave me the strength and courage to move forward and never stop trying.”
The two have settled into their new life in Warsaw. Kira attends day care within walking distance from Iryna’s work, and they attend Polish language classes in the evenings. The family dreams of returning to the sea and reuniting with loved ones who stayed in Ukraine. For now, though, Iryna and Kira are happy having a safe, stable space for their “very special bond” to grow.