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Finland to accept displaced Ukrainians from Estonia

With less than a quarter of Finland's population, Estonia has so far taken in nearly as many Ukrainians as Finland.

Ukranalaisperhe, kuvassa Aliona Zhdanyuk äiti, Kamila Lal  tytär ja Bogdan Lal poika
Aliona Zhdanyuk, pictured here with her kids Bogdan and Kamila, said her family has received help with filling out paperwork as well as finding a place to live in Finland. Image: Jouni Immonen / Yle
Yle News

Finland will start accepting displaced Ukrainians from Estonia from the beginning of next year.

The move comes as Estonia struggles to house, educate and provide healthcare for the Ukrainians who continue to flee Russia's invasion of their home country. Organising enough long-term housing is a problem, according to Estonia's Interior Ministry.

The small Baltic state told Yle some 41,000 Ukrainians have sought temporary protection in the country since Russia invaded Ukraine in February.

"Estonia has short-term accommodation spots available, but our resources are quite squeezed in terms of long-term solutions," said Silvester Silver Stõun of Estonia's Interior Ministry.

He added that as resources wear thin, problems arise in providing healthcare, education and Estonian language classes. Failure to meet these needs can negatively impact the newcomers' integration into Estonian society, according to Stõun.

Finland has also made education arrangements for Ukrainian children, as they have the same right to go to school as Finnish kids.

Eleven-year-old Bogdan Lal is one of these children. He arrived with his eight-year-old sister, Kamila, and mother, Aliona Zhdanyuk, 38, in March. Kamila is now in second grade and Bogdan in fifth.

"It's very fun," Bogdan said of his new school.

Finland offers help

Estonia, a country of 1.3 million people, has granted temporary protection to some 41,000 Ukrainians this year. Finland, with a population of 5.6 million, has received nearly the same number of applications for asylum—46,000.

"Estonia is one of the countries that has seen the most Ukrainian refugees in relation to its population," Stõun explained.

To help alleviate the pressure Estonia is facing, Finland has agreed to accept 50–100 Ukrainians from Estonia per week as of January. The deal will include ferry and bus transport paid by Estonia and Finland. Finnish and Estonian officials, however, said it's difficult to estimate how many Ukrainians will actually want to leave Estonia for Finland.

Little change

Despite plunging temperatures in Ukraine, Finland has not seen an upswing in new arrivals this winter.

"It's surprising that the numbers haven't grown," said Mari Helenius, a senior specialist at Finland's Interior Ministry.

This situation could, however, change as Russian attacks on Ukrainian infrastructure target the distribution of water, electricity and heat. A further deterioration of the situation during the coldest months could lead to more people fleeing the country.

Finland's Interior Ministry told Yle that its cooperation deal with Estonia hinges on Finland continuing to have enough space to accommodate arrivals.

At the moment, Finland expects up to 40,000 Ukrainians to seek temporary protection in the country next year.

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