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UKRAINE

How Vienna is helping thousands of Ukrainian refugees arriving by train

Thousands of refugees from Ukraine are arriving daily at Vienna's central station, either to stay in Austria, or head further afield throughout Europe. The Local's Emma Midgley went to Vienna’s main train station to find out how people can help. 

Vienna station
Hundreds of refugees have been making their way by train to Vienna's main station over the past week. (Rebecca Rodriguez).

Walking into Vienna’s Hauptbahnhof, Austria’s largest train station and one of the busiest in Europe, it is obvious refugees from Ukraine are arriving in large numbers.

There are crowds of people milling around, ranging in age from pensioners to small children in buggies and babies.

Many families have dogs or other pets. People look exhausted and drawn as they stand close to piles of luggage. Most of the new arrivals are just sitting, slumped, in the station chairs. Small children run around clutching soft toys. 

According to estimates by ÖBB, the Ministry of the Interior and the City of Vienna, 3,300 to 4,000 refugees from Ukraine arrive in Austria every day.

At least 200 to 300 refugees, mostly women with children, are in Vienna’s station at any point during the day, although this number fluctuates.

Travel for Ukrainian refugees is free on all train and city public transport networks in Austria, and over 4,000 people travelled out of Ukraine on Austria’s train network on Friday alone.

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The charity Caritas is on site at Vienna’s main station around the clock. It has fifty employees on site and also mans an emergency shelter, open from 10pm, which sleeps 50 people.

The Caritas employees and volunteers, clad in their distinctive red t-shirts, are busy speaking to arrivals and handing out food from an information point.

There are ample supplies of bottles of water, food, snacks, toiletries and even dog food. Other volunteers distribute masks to people milling around the station. The nearby DM shop offers customers the chance to buy a Hilfspaket (help package), with sanitary products, deodorant, nappies, baby food and other essentials. 

The Caritas info point at the station
Water, snacks, toiletries and even pet food are distributed throughout the day. Photo: Emma Midgley

Maria, a Ukranian who has been living and working in Vienna for seven years, is one of the volunteers helping at the Caritas stand. She told the Local most of the people approaching her for help cannot speak English or German.

Volunteers are needed to direct refugees by tube to the Ukrainian Arrival Centre (Ankunftszentrum Ukraine) near the city’s Stadion stop on the U2 line, where there are services such as Covid-19 testing, psychological support and beds for the night. Others need help making train or plane connections or need medical assistance.

“They are very tired, very nervous,” she says of the people who have been asking her for help. “They need help finding out where to go. They are so stressed, they can’t even find their way up the stairs onto the upper concourse. I have to go with them.”

When asked what one thing people can do to help the new arrivals, she answers in one word: “Spenden” (make donations).

She suggests giving money to the charities Caritas or Diakonie, who are helping the refugees who arrive in Vienna. A collection box at the Caritas stand is filled with €50 and €100 notes. Marie says she is “proud” of how the city of Vienna has rallied to help. 

A woman seeking help at the Caritas info point.
Volunteers are asked to register in advance if they want to help out. Photo: Emma Midgley

As we speak, Maria constantly breaks off to talk to people in Ukrainian who are asking her questions. More volunteers keep piling in, asking if they can help.

People have seen the many posts on social media calling for people to come down to the train station, to the extent that there is almost a volunteer “rush hour ”.

Caritas advises any volunteers to register first by emailing [email protected]. Helpers are needed from early in the morning until around 22:00 or 23:00 at night. Volunteers who can speak Russian or Ukrainian are particularly in demand.

Alex, a 15-year-old waiting at the station, told the Local he had just completed a gruelling three day journey to get to Vienna from Dnipro in Ukraine. He came the whole way by train, through Poland, and has just travelled seven hours to reach Vienna. He and his sister and mother plan to stay with friends in Tyrol. His father is still in Ukraine. 

“I am tired,” he says to me in German. “It took a long time to leave Ukraine because there were so many people trying to go at the same time.” 

He tells me this is the fourth time he has come to Austria. It’s a place he knows from holidays. He even knows how to ski. 

“I hope this all ends soon,” he says. 

People queuing for tickets.
Around 80 percent of refugees are only in transit through Austria and will continue their journey to another destination, it is estimated. Photo: Emma Midgley

Work is still underway to create a better arrival area at Vienna’s main train station  for the thousands of refugees flooding into Austria.

More seating will be arranged for people waiting for connecting trains. The number of people traveling by train in Austria rose from 3,000 on Monday to 4,500 by the end of the week, train company ÖBB reports. Austria has also pledged to send more trains to the Polish border to bring people to safety in the next few days, which will also carry donated items on their outward journey.

Across Austria, the Federal Agency for Care and Support Services (BBU) has already set aside 29,500 lodgings for refugees provided by individuals and businesses and is giving around 500 people a day emergency accommodation. 

The Train of Hope charity, which operates in Vienna’s Humanitarian Arrival Centre (Humanitäres Ankunftszentrum) in the city’s Second District, wrote on social media on Sunday it has received over 10,000 people in the last ten days.

The centre says it is looking after 40 animals a day on site, including a cockatoo and a chinchilla. So far, around a thousand people have come to volunteer there. 

From today (Monday), Ukrainian people coming to Austria will be able to register with the authorities at the Austria Center in Vienna.

They will receive a blue card, which  will mean they have access to the labour market in Austria and will receive a payment of 25 euros a day. The costs of the scheme will be shared between the federal and state governments in a ratio of 60 to 40.

However, it is believed the majority of refugees from Ukraine do not want to stay in Austria but want to travel to other EU countries.

Change to upper limit for Ukrainian earnings

At a federal level, refugees from Ukraine will be allowed to earn up to 485 euros a month, instead of the usual 110 euros.

The decision was announced by the Interior Minister Gerhard Karner (ÖVP) after a conference with the refugee state councillors in Austria. There will also be an increased payment of 60 euros per month for people who are housing refugees.

This means that a total of 180 euros per person is available to pay for private accommodation, broadcaster ORF reports. This extra payment will also be available for anyone housing asylum seekers.

According to Karner, 40,000 people from Ukraine have already been registered so far, and around 7,000 are now available for the job market.

Vienna City Councillor Peter Hacker estimates that 200,000 to 250,000 people from Ukraine could seek shelter in Austria in future.

Important addresses and information

Humanitarian Arrival Centre (Humanitäres Ankunftszentrum) “Sport- und Fun-Halle”

Austria Centre Vienna

  • Address: Bruno-Kreisky-Platz 1, 1220 Wien
  • Opening hours: Monday to Friday, 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. (last admission 4 p.m.)

Volunteering

The web portal where2help Wien gives all the current volunteering opportunities with refugees in the Austrian capital.

The website fuereinand.at gives the opportunity to donate to organisations helping refugees and connect with other people who want to make a difference. 

You can sign up to volunteer with Caritas by emailing [email protected]

If you can offer accommodation to people arriving in Austria, you can register by contacting the Federal Agency for Care and Support Services (BBU) 

Charities involved in helping refugees in Vienna are:

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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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