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UKRAINE

EU countries agree to lift visa rules for Ukrainians fleeing war

EU countries have agreed to grant Ukrainians fleeing the war immediate leave to stay in the Bloc without a visa for one year, which can be extended if necessary.

EU countries agree to lift visa rules for Ukrainians fleeing war
Photo by Ludovic MARIN / AFP

A special meeting of European interior ministers on Thursday agreed to apply a little-used measure known as the Temporary Protection Directive to any Ukrainians who want to come to an EU country.

The 90-day rule has been in place for Ukrainians since 2017, and this allows them to enter any EU or Schengen zone country without a visa and stay there for up to 90 days, but until now what happens on day 91 had been unclear.

The activation of the Temporary Protection Directive means that any Ukrainian citizen can stay within the EU or Schengen zone for a year without having to apply for a visa or make a claim for asylum.

During that time they will be permitted to work and children can access education.

The status applies immediately and covers both Ukrainians who have already arrived and those who come in the days or weeks to come.

After the meeting, EU home affairs commissioner Ylva Johansson tweeted: “Historic decision – the EU will give temporary protection to those fleeing the war in Ukraine. The EU stands united to save lives!” 

The measure was welcomed by the interior ministers of countries including France and Sweden.

Anders Ygeman, Sweden’s Minister for Integration and Migration, said: “This is an act of solidarity with Ukraine – that the EU supports those who flee the horrors of war caused by Russia.”

The Directive gives Ukrainians a similar status to that of someone who has been granted asylum, but different countries have different rules on requirements for registering residency. 

The UN High Commission for Refugees estimates that 1 million Ukrainians have already left the country and this number is expected to increase in the coming days as Russia intensifies their attacks. 

European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen, speaking on Sunday, said: “We welcome with open arms those Ukrainians who have to flee from Putin’s bombs and I am proud of the warm welcome that Europeans have given them.

“We are mobilising every effort and every euro to support our Eastern Member States – to host and take care of these refugees.”

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UKRAINE

REVEALED: What is Austria’s emergency plan if Russia cuts gas supply?

Amid fears about what would happen if gas supplies to Austria were disrupted, the Federal Government has put together a package of measures to create a strategic gas reserve.

REVEALED: What is Austria's emergency plan if Russia cuts gas supply?

It has been well reported that Austria is heavily reliant on Russian natural gas – but what would happen if supplies were suspended or stopped altogether?

Austria sources 80 percent of its gas from Russia, so the country would be seriously impacted if supplies were disrupted due to the war in Ukraine, a breakdown of diplomatic relations or any other unforeseen event. 

This is why the Federal Government has now unveiled a package of measures to protect Austria’s gas reserves in the event of an energy emergency.

READ MORE: ‘An unprecedented situation’: How would a gas embargo impact Austria?

What is in the package?

Energy Minister Leonore Gewessler and Finance Minister Magnus Brunner presented the plans following a meeting in the Council of Ministers on Wednesday, May 18th.

The most important points include an increase of the strategic gas reserve by 7.4 terawatt hours (TWh) to 20 TWh. This would cover Austria’s gas consumption for two winter months but the additional gas would not be sourced from Russia, according to the Kronen Zeitung

Gewessler said: “This measure will significantly reduce dependence on Russian gas.”

Increasing the strategic reserve with non-Russian supplies will reduce Austria’s dependence on Russian gas to 70 percent, Gewessler added.

Additionally, gas storage facilities located in Austria – such as the Haidach facility in Salzburg – must be connected to the Austrian gas grid. Haidach, which is supplied by Gasprom, is currently only connected to Germany’s pipeline network and has not been refilled for some time.

Finally, any unused gas in company storage facilities should be surrendered to the government if needed. Companies will be financially compensated for this.

READ ALSO: Austrian Economy Minister says gas embargo would be ‘red line’

What about next winter?

Federal Chancellor Karl Nehammer has already said that gas storage facilities in Austria have to be 80 percent full before the next autumn and winter season.

The storage level is currently at 26 percent, reports Der Standard.

Gewessler also appealed to the Austrian public to make changes to help reduce the dependence on gas for energy, calling for more gas boilers to be replaced with other heating systems.

She said: “Together we are strong and together we can achieve this feat.”

READ MORE: What would an embargo on Russian oil mean for Austria?

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