The first of three days of resettlement of Ukrainian refugees within Bulgaria was a flop when only five of 200 scheduled to be transported by train from Varna on the morning of May 29 turned up.
According to reports, most of those who refused to relocate had decided to seek private accommodation themselves or intended to return to Ukraine.
The initial phase of Bulgaria’s accommodation program for Ukrainians fleeing Russia’s war against their country, under which the Bulgarian state will pay hoteliers 40 leva per person per day for taking in Ukrainians, is scheduled to end on May 31.
In the next phase, Ukrainians will be relocated to state institutions or hotels, with hoteliers receiving 10 or 15 leva per person per day, depending on whether food is provided.
Reporters at Varna train station said there was a good level of organization, with corridors for the Ukrainians, tight security, Bulgarian Red Cross teams and NGOs ready to provide water and snacks, a children’s playground and a reserved space for the media to attend to photograph the Ukrainians – from a distance – and for a briefing.
The 10:30 Varna-Sofia train had been expanded with four additional carriages for Ukrainians to be taken by rail and then by road to state facilities paniciste and Ribaritsa.
Of the five buses that were supposed to take the Ukrainians from their hotels in Golden Sands to Varna train station, four arrived empty.
Due to the no-show, three of the wagons were uncoupled. The five Ukrainians who arrived at the train station were sent on their journey to Ribaritsa.
Varna district governor Blagomir Kotsev told reporters that the Ukrainians at the hotel said they would give up at the last minute because they found their own transport or accommodation.
The head of Bulgaria‘s state refugee agency, Mariana Tosheva, said refugees were leaving every day and that more people were expected.
Kotsev said that the first hotel the buses went to to pick people up was the Berlin Hotel in Golden Sands.
“However, they decided to stay another day. The hotel was ready for their stay — you know, the program runs until May 31,” he said.
The Ukrainians had known for two days when they had to be in front of the hotel and where they wanted to go, he said.
“There was a precise timetable for the distribution of people. State facilities in Varna are reserved for those most in need – the elderly, the disabled, so they don’t need to be transported,” Kotsev said.
It is intended to resettle 7000 Ukrainians from Varna and the region.
The Bulgarian National Radio said that of the approximately 20,000 Ukrainians staying in hotels in Varna, about 3,000 have already left for Ukraine.
Tosheva was scheduled to visit Bulgaria’s other major Black Sea city, Burgas, from Varna on May 29 to learn about the situation there.
Daily newspaper Sega reported on May 29, citing volunteer Roman Kuvaev, that many Ukrainians found out exactly where they were going to be transported on May 28 at 8 p.m.
The old and the sick weren’t finished with their luggage on Sunday morning, others didn’t want to move inland, where there is a lack of social services. People wanted to stay by the sea or at least in a big city, the report says.
Sega said the situation is different on Bulgaria’s southern Black Sea coast, where many Ukrainians stay in hotels based on the 15 leva per day program or in nearby state facilities.
Forms filled out by Ukrainians before resettlement 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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