Bulgaria: Hundreds of Ukrainians no-shows for relocation

The first of three days of relocation of Ukrainian refugees within Bulgaria was a flop when of 200 scheduled to be transported by train from Varna on the morning of May 29, only five showed up.

Reportedly, of those who declined to be relocated, most had chosen to find private accommodation on their own or intended to return to Ukraine.

The initial phase of Bulgaria’s accommodation scheme for Ukrainians fleeing Russia’s war on their country, by which the Bulgarian state has been paying hoteliers 40 leva per person per day to host Ukrainians, is scheduled to end on May 31.

The next phase involves Ukrainians being relocated to state facilities or hotels, with hoteliers being paid 10 or 15 leva per person per day, depending on whether food is provided.

Reporters at Varna Railway Station said that there was a good level of organisation, with corridors provided for the Ukrainians, tight security, teams from the Bulgarian Red Cross and NGOs ready to provide water and snacks, a children’s play area, and a spot set aside for the media to photograph the Ukrainians – from a distance – and for a briefing.

Four additional carriages had been added to the 10.30am Varna – Sofia train for the Ukrainians, who were to be taken by rail and then by road to state facilities in Panichiste and Ribaritsa.

Of the five buses that had been arranged to transport the Ukrainians from their hotels in Golden Sands to Varna station, four arrived empty.

Given the no-shows, three of the train carriages were uncoupled. The five Ukrainians who arrived at the station were sent on their journey to Ribaritsa.

Varna district governor Blagomir Kotsev told reporters that the Ukrainians said at the hotel that they were giving up at the last minute because they had found their own transport or places to stay.

The head of Bulgaria’s State Agency for Refugees, Mariana Tosheva, said that refugees would leave every day and more people were expected to leave.

Kotsev said that the first hotel that the buses went to to fetch people was the Berlin Hotel in Golden Sands.

“However, they decided to stay another day. The hotel was ready for them to stay – you know, the programme is until May 31,” he said.

The Ukrainians had known for two days what time to be in front of the hotel, and where they were going, he said.

“There was a precise schedule for the distribution of people. The state facilities in Varna are reserved for people in greatest need – the elderly, the disabled, so that there is no need to transport them,” Kotsev said.

The intention is to relocate 7000 Ukrainians from Varna and the district.

Bulgarian National Radio said that of the about 20 000 Ukrainians who had been staying in hotels in Varna, about 3000 had already left for Ukraine.

Tosheva was due go on from Varna to visit Bulgaria’s other major Black Sea city, Bourgas, to check on the situation there on May 29.

Daily Sega reported on May 29, quoting volunteer Roman Kuvaev, that many Ukrainians had found out precisely where they would be transported at 8pm on May 28.

The elderly and the ill were not ready with their luggage on Sunday morning, and others did not want to move inland where there is a lack of social services. People wanted to stay at the seaside, or at least in a large city, the report said.

Sega said that the situation was different on Bulgaria’s southern Black Sea coast, where many Ukrainians would be staying in hotels on the basis of the 15 leva per day scheme, or in nearby state facilities.

Forms filled in by the Ukrainians ahead of the relocation asked them where they wanted to stay, but the state made the final decisions about their destinations within Bulgaria.

(Archive photo of Varna Railway Station: Clive Leviev-Sawyer)

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