Poland welcomes first Ukrainian refugees

Cash shortages in Krakow as Poles rush to stock up on currency

A Polish police officer serves soup to a Ukrainian man in the main railway station of Przemysl which has been turned into a temporary reception centre for refugees. AFP

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Poland is braced for the fallout from Russia’s military action in neighbouring Ukraine, as troops from Nato member states arrive to bolster the military alliance on its eastern flank bordering Ukraine.

In Krakow, a large Polish city about a three-hour drive from the Ukrainian border, money changers reported shortages of euros as locals stocked up. Poland, though an EU member, uses the Polish zloty and not the euro.

Multiple money changers blamed the impact of the Ukraine crisis, with one saying the shortages had started on Thursday.

Some Polish residents queued to withdraw cash from banks as concerns grew over the conflict. Poland’s central bank was forced to issue a statement insisting that the country has sufficient reserves despite some cash machines running out of zlotys.

“Due to the increased scale of transactions, in some locations there may be delays in the delivery of cash to ATMs from logistic centres of commercial banks and cash-handling companies,” the National Bank of Poland said.

About 5,000 soldiers from the US have arrived in south-eastern Poland to reinforce the border and assist the tens of thousands of arriving Ukrainian refugees.

Poland has closed its airspace to Russian flights following its advance into Ukraine.

Ukrainians have poured into Poland, enduring wait times of up to 12 hours to cross the border.

Poland has set up reception centres for those arriving and as Ukrainians arrived on foot, by car and by train, they were greeted by Polish authorities and volunteers offering food and hot drinks.

There has been an easing of usual border procedures including Covid-19 testing requirements.

Despite the currency shortages and occasional comment on the Ukraine crisis, life went on as normal in Krakow on an overcast Friday. British tourists were still arriving and visiting the city.

George, 70, a long-time resident of Krakow, compared the conflict in Ukraine to fighting between brothers, or the Slavic people.

But he also criticised what he saw as the US’ wider negative impact on the globe, citing the conflict in Afghanistan — to which Nato member Poland contributed troops — and the break-up of Yugoslavia three decades ago.

Referring to the previous conflicts that have wrecked Europe over the decades, he said: “We must learn the lessons of history.”

Updated: February 26, 2022, 1:47 AM