Wednesday, 11 May 2022

Slightly More Than 17,300 Ukrainian Refugees Have Arrived in Croatia, Says Minister

ZAGREB, 11 May 2022 - Just over 17,300 Ukrainian refugees, of whom 85% are women and children, have arrived in Croatia so far, Minister of the Interior Davor Božinović said on Wednesday.

Speaking in an interview with Croatian Radio, Božinović said that at the very start a clear and transparent system for refugees was established and that a temporary mechanism of protection was activated, providing the refugees with all rights, including integration in the labour market.

"I'm pleased to say that the entire process has been free of any problems and difficulties. I believe that the Ukrainians are satisfied with and grateful for the treatment they have been given in Croatia," he added.

Božinović also spoke about the difference between Ukrainian refugees and migrants arriving from Africa, Asia and the Middle East.

"Despite the war going on, all Ukrainian refugees have entered Croatia via border crossings with personal documents, unlike migrants who practically never come to border crossings from Bosnia and Herzegovina, and do not have personal documents, which is a very important difference," he said.

For more, check out our politics section.

Wednesday, 11 May 2022

Hungary's Viktor Orban Makes Bizarre Claim That Croatia "Took Their Sea"

May the 11th, 2022 - The Hungarian PM Viktor Orban is known for his rather unusual political sentiments, but this one probably takes the cake. He recently claimed that Croatia ''took Hungary's sea'', leaving it without ports. This was said in front of Ursula von der Leyen, the European Commission's President.

As Morski writes, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen met with Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban yesterday over Hungary's opposition to the European Union's joint embargo on Russian oil. Von der Leyen said after the meeting that progress had been made and that some issues with Orban had been clarified.

''We've made some progress, but there's still work to be done,'' she added, which actually means that no concrete agreement has yet been reached with Hungary, the leader of which is very reluctant to firmly join the EU on its stance against Russia.

As one European diplomat explained to France Presse, Hungary would need a new pipeline to secure its oil supply, connecting it to the Republic of Croatia, which has access to the sea. Therefore, it seeks guarantees that Zagreb will engage in the construction of this infrastructure, as well as guarantees of European Union funding to facilitate it financially.

''Those who have sea and ports are able to bring oil on tankers. If they hadn't taken it away from us (the sea), we would also have a port,'' Viktor Orban said in an interview with the Hungarian state radio last Friday, as reported by Politico, which explains that Orban was referring to the Dalmatian coast.

Hungary is otherwise the biggest opponent of the joint EU embargo on Russian oil, and Viktor Orban has been seen as a thorn in the side of many diplomats and politicians across the EU for some time now.

To briefly recall, all 27 EU member states must be unanimous in order for sanctions to be imposed against Russia. The sanctions proposal cites certain exceptions, but both Slovakia and Hungary consider them to be insufficient. Hungary is the country that strongly opposes the European embargo on Russian oil and has already asked for a five-year postponement.

Hungarian Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto said on Monday night that Hungary cannot accept the proposed package of European Union sanctions on Russia until its fears are resolved.

Earlier, Prime Minister Orban said that the European Commission's proposal would have the effect of an "atomic bomb for Hungary".

"It would destroy our stable energy supply," he added.

For more, check out our politics section.

Sunday, 8 May 2022

Andrej Plenkovic Visits Ukraine, Visits Kyiv, Meets with Zelensky

May the 8th, 2022 - Croatian PM Andrej Plenkovic visits Ukraine as the war rages on following Russian invasion which began back in February this year. He has paid a visit to the capital, Kyiv, and will have further meetings with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.

As Poslovni Dnevnik writes, Andrej Plenkovic arrived in the City of Kyiv on Sunday morning as part of his visit to Ukraine, where he will meet with President Volodymyr Zelensky, Prime Minister Denis Smihal and Parliament Speaker Ruslan Stefanchuk, Banski dvori announced.

Minister of Foreign and European Affairs Gordan Grlic Radman is also in Kyiv as Plenkovic visits Ukraine.

"Croatia knows what it's like to be under military aggression and continues to provide political, diplomatic, financial, humanitarian, technical and any other possible support to Ukraine, as well as assistance in taking care of Ukrainian refugees," the government said in a statement.

During the meetings, the Ukrainian state leadership will inform Plenkovic about the consequences of the destruction caused by the Russian attacks on Ukraine, and they will also discuss further assistance and the continuation of Ukraine's European Union (EU) path.

The Croatian Ambassador to Ukraine has also returned to Kyiv

Plenkovic's visit to Ukraine is taking place on the eve of Europe Day and is an expression of solidarity and support for the Ukrainian authorities and the brave Ukrainian people, who are victims of brutal and horrendous Russian aggression.

Prior to the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the Prime Minister paid an official visit to Ukraine in December 2021, and also attended a meeting of the Crimean Platform summit with EU leaders back in August 2021.

Plenkovic and Minister Grlic Radman were welcomed by Ambassador Anica Djamic, who herself returned to Kyiv, where she will remain and continue to work at the helm of the Croatian Embassy in Ukraine.

For more, make sure to check out out dedicated politics section.

Thursday, 5 May 2022

Croatia To Give €5 Mn Donation For Ukraine At Warsaw Donor Conference

ZAGREB, 5 May 2022 - Croatia will give Ukraine a donation worth €5 million at a donor conference taking place in Warsaw on Thursday, and the event will be addressed virtually by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.

The Croatian government on Thursday decided to donate to Ukraine financial aid in the amount of four million euros plus a €1 million worth of water and medicines donated by Croatian companies.

"Croatia knows what is means to be attacked and will continue helping Ukraine from the heart and out of principle," PM Andrej Plenković told reporters while arriving for the conference, organised by the Polish and Swedish governments.

The conference is co-hosted by Polish PM Mateusz Morawiecki and Swedish PM Magdalena Andersson, in partnership with European Council President Charles Michel and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen.

Plenković travelled to Poland together with Minister of the Interior Davor Božinović, and he is expected to hold a number of bilateral meetings on the margins of the event, including with outgoing Slovenian PM Janez Janša.

The Polish Foreign Ministry on Monday said it expected at least ten delegations at the event.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy is expected to address the conference virtually, and a Ukrainian delegation is expected to arrive in the Polish capital.

At the last donor conference organised in Warsaw in early April by the European Commission, Canadian government and Global Citizens organisation, more than €10 million was raised for Ukraine.

For more, check out our politics section.

Wednesday, 27 April 2022

Ukrainian Women's National Volleyball Team Arrive in Croatia

ZAGREB, 27 April 2022 - Sixteen members of the Ukrainian women's national volleyball team and six members of their coaching staff arrived in Zagreb on Tuesday at the invitation of the Croatian Volleyball Federation to practise in the northern town of Nedelišće.

The Ukrainians were welcomed at Zagreb airport by the Director of the Croatian Volleyball Federation, Valentina Bifflin, the Secretary of the Croatian Volleyball Federation, Frane Žanić, and the Secretary General of the Croatian Olympic Committee, Siniša Krajač, 

Acting at the recommendation of the International Olympic Committee, the Croatian Olympic Committee and the Croatian Volleyball Federation are helping top Ukrainian athletes to continue their competitions, for which they need preparations, said Siniša Krajač, Secretary General of the Croatian Olympic Committee.

"This is one way of helping them to continue their normal sporting activities. We will lend them a helping hand, not just just to them, but to others as well. Several (Ukrainian) teams are already in Croatia, several hundred athletes, and we are trying to help them continue competing in international arenas," he added.

The war in Ukraine is making it difficult for the country's athletes to pursue their careers.

"I come from Luhansk. The situation is difficult because the war has been going on there for eight years. The situation is bad throughout Ukraine. I know nothing about Croatia. I only know about its women's national team. We're in a difficult situation. It's hard to concentrate on the game, but this is just another experience that we'll have. We don't know what will happen in a month's time, maybe the situation gets better and the war is over. We don't know what will happen tomorrow and whether we will go home or not," said Oleksandra Bytsenko, the captain of the Ukrainian national women's volleyball team.

To follow the latest sports news in Croatia, follow TCN's dedicated page.

Wednesday, 6 April 2022

NYT Writes About Decreased Croatian Reservations, Cites Ukraine War

April the 6th, 2022 - The New York Times (NYT) has written about the decreased Croatian reservations we're currently experiencing after high post-pandemic hopes were dashed as Russia invaded neighbouring Ukraine. To some foreigners, Croatia is too close on the map of Europe to the battlefield, despite the lack of truth in that.

As Poslovni Dnevnik writes, so far, the hardest hit destinations when it comes to reservations are countries near to Ukraine, including Poland, Bulgaria, Croatia, Estonia and Hungary, where bookings have dropped by between 30 and 50 percent, according to the New York Times, citing data from analyst firm ForwardKey.

Negative consequences are also being felt in more distant destinations such as in Spain. Diego Sanz, a tour guide on Spain’s gorgeous Mediterranean coast, received his very first international group in more than a year in mid-February. It was, he thought, a sign of better things to come.

''We live in paradise here and we were sure that when the coronavirus restrictions were lifted, we'd have no more problems and tourists would come flocking back to us like bees come to nectar,'' said Mr Sanz, sitting in the silence of a cafe in the very popular Spanish port city of Alicante.

International reservations have been slowing down ever since Russia invaded Ukraine. In the first week of the war alone, airline bookings within Europe fell by 23 percent, and overseas bookings to European countries fell by 13 percent, according to ForwardKeys.

What about Croatian reservations? The Republic of Croatia is often ranked among the European economies most highly dependent on tourism, as tourism accounts for about a fifth of this small nation's gross domestic product, according to the Croatian Bureau of Statistics (CBS).

Destinations along Croatia's sparkling Adriatic coast attracted the majority of 13.8 million visitors and 84.1 million overnight stays back in 2021, which led to GDP growth of 10.4 percent.

Although the cancellation of Croatian reservations have been somewhat minimal so far, there has definitely been a marked slowdown in some areas. Dubrovnik Boats, a private excursion and charter company with the majority of its clients coming from across the pond in the USA, was expecting a record year, but after the outbreak of war in Ukraine, their reservation rate suddenly fell by 70 percent. "We're an inch away from Ukraine to foreigners when looking at a map," said Niksa Smojver, the company's owner.

Significant concerns this year for shipping charter companies are also being caused by rising gas prices and the possibility of fuel shortages. For Dubrovnik Boats, for example, the cost of a return tour between Dubrovnik and Hvar is now 750 US dollars higher than it was last year.So far, the company hasn't increased its passenger ticket prices, but may need to if the situation fails to calm down. Still, Smojver remains hopeful.

''After the pandemic people have become fed up with everything and everyone wants to travel. This season could be one of the best we've ever had,'' he said.

In other parts of Europe, especially in tourism-dependent countries, the forecasts are gloomier. Cancellations in nearby Italy have brought pessimism among tour guides and operators, although some have expressed hope that the war will end soon and that the season will be saved.

''In general, the mood is a depressed one because it seemed like this was all over, and instead there was yet another new downturn,'' concluded Margherita Capponi, an Italian tour guide from Rome.

For more, make sure to check out our dedicated travel section.

Sunday, 3 April 2022

Two Retired Ukrainian Artists Choose Croatia Over UK, Make Vir Home

April the 3rd, 2022 - Two retired Ukrainian artists were living their normal lives in the Lviv region of their homeland until the Russian invasion, and in that short period everything changed from them, seeing them relocate from the climes of a grey Ukrainian winter to the mild and sunny Croatian island of Vir.

As Morski/Kazimir Skrbic writes, just several days ago, retired Ukrainian artists Lyudmila and Mikhail Rymik were living their normal lives in the familiar ambience of their home in the immediate vicinity of Stryi, a city of about sixty thousand inhabitants located in western Ukraine in the Lviv region.

It was life as normal until early March when the first smell of gunpowder from eastern Ukraine began to spread further out, reaching more western Ukrainian areas. 68-year-old Mihajlo, a retired builder, gardener and amateur painter, and his wife, Lyudmila, also an artist, made the difficult decision to leave. Mihajlo packed up his van with only some basic hygiene items and his trusty art supplies. They left their two cats and one dog in the care of their diligent neighbours and headed first to Poland, in anticipation of the greatest adventure of their lives.

''When we set off we didn’t really know where we were going. But we wanted to save our pictures and make it to Croatia, where we intended to get in touch with Marica and Mijat Barisic, whom I met in Ukraine three years ago. I only knew that they lived on the island of Vir, but I thought it was good to have someone to go to. Marica's mobile contact from the business card she left me, I called unsuccessfully because I overlooked the fact that you need to put in the area code for Croatia,'' stated Mihajlo. Their long trip through Poland, Slovakia and Hungary took them a full two weeks, and then Mihajlo and Lyudmila, after arriving in the City of Zagreb, managed to establish contact with some friends of Marica and Mijat from Vir.

''Mihajlo's friend asked me if Mihajlo and Lyudmila from Ukraine could come to us. I couldn't immediately remember who they were, because I hadn't actually met Lyudmila, but then I remembered Mihajlo, with whom we hung out when my husband and I were staying in Ukraine. Mihajlo played the guitar in a castle at a gathering organised by our Association of Ukrainian-Croatian Friendship. If you're ever in Croatia, I told him then, stop by Vir,'' said Marica, remembering how one informal invitation had become fateful.

Without thinking, the pair opened their hearts and provided accommodation to the Rymiks, and Mihajlo and Lyudmila have been Vir residents with an address in the Miljkovica settlement for two weeks now. The idyllic landscape of their Ukrainian village has quickly been replaced by being on the deeply desired first row to the sea.

''It's beautiful on the island,'' said Mihajlo, for whom the blue azure of the sea was the current inspiration for the first painting - the Vir motif. The two talented Ukrainian artists arranged the paintings they'd manage to bring with them, as well as their art and painting accessories, all of which can be found on the mezzanine stairs of the family house of their friends.

In addition to the Barisic family, other Vir locals also readily helped out, and their dilapidated and broken-down van, with which they barely reached Vir, was serviced and repaired free of charge by the well-known Vir car mechanic Zivko Vucetic, and now Mihajlo and Lyudmila can drive to Zadar to visit MUP and complete the formalities regarding their current status and stay in Croatia.

In the meantime, the pair of Ukrainian artists have been offering their paintings of larger and smaller dimensions - inspired by Crimea, the Ukrainian countryside, the natural environment, but also the French masters of Impressionism - to Zadar galleries and locals. In order to make some money, Mihajlo is ready, he says, to work doing building again as a master mason, and during the summer season, both of them will try to offer their painting skills to tourists on the beaches.

''I'm willing to do anything to make the situation we're in at least a little bit easier. We're immensely grateful to Marica and Mijat for their hospitality, but we'd like to earn our own money and be independent. I hope we'll be able to make a living from selling our paintings,'' said an optimistic Mihajlo.

Instead of living with family in England, they ended up on Vir

''I suffer with some thyroid problems, so the coastal environment will be pleasant for my slightly impaired health due to the iodine and salt. As we'll definitely stay here on Vir until the end of the summer, we'd like our British family to visit us. We have two daughters who live in England with their families,'' said Lyudmila, explaining why the Ukrainian artists didn't go to England to be with their daughters, sons-in-law and grandchildren, but instead chose to go on an adventure which saw them end up on a Croatian island.

For more, make sure to check out our dedicated lifestyle section.

Wednesday, 30 March 2022

Speak Startup to Facilitate Croatian Language Learning for Ukraine Refugees

March the 30th, 2022 - The European Speak startup from Portugal is set to help the Ukrainian refugees who have arrived in the country with Croatian language learning.

As Poslovni Dnevnik/Marija Crnjak writes, the European startup Speak, founded in Portugal to support the social inclusion of migrants and refugees, has launched the international platform "SPEAK For Ukraine" for the integration of refugees from Ukraine across Europe.

The platform connects refugees, volunteers and organisations with the aim of integrating Ukrainian refugees as quickly as possible, including offering emotional support groups and the framework for learning local languages, this includes Croatian language learning.

It is a company which, since its founding back in 2014, has created a community of more than 50,000 people across 23 cities, including more than 500 Ukrainians across Europe, and "SPEAK For Ukraine" was launched on March the 12th, a mere 16 days after the war in Ukraine broke out, in cooperation with the Representation of the European Commission in Portugal.

Free and easy access

This platform connects volunteers with organisations and people who need support to break down the language barriers and create an informal help network, and in the first days alone, hundreds of applications were registered through it from more than 60 cities around the world.

The platform can also be used by volunteers and refugees in Croatia, where there are currently about 9,000 displaced people from Ukraine. According to Speak, the platform will allow refugees from Ukraine to have free and easy access to language groups, where they can learn the language of their host country, as well as emotional support groups, to help them and their families integrate into their new communities.

The platform allows volunteers to organise language learning groups, translation and interpretation services from Ukrainian or Russian into many other languages, and helps various organisations to guide refugees.

''Through "SPEAK for Ukraine" we want to complement the work that Speak is already developing with the aim of integrating refugees and migrants on the issue of language barriers in different cities around the world. With this platform, we've created a solution for integration not only at the individual level, but also at the family level. In this way, we guarantee families that they can overcome language barriers and build an informal support network in their host country, by expanding our community to countries where Speak is not yet actively present.

At the same time, we're striving to ensure that organisations across Europe working with refugees at SPEAK For Ukraine find all the language and integration support they need,'' says Hugo Menino Aguiar, the co-founder and CEO of Speak.

A concrete opportunity

In addition to the language barrier, SPEAK For Ukraine also responds to more urgent communication needs, by activating an international network of translators and interpreters, and the needs of psychological support for those who have fled the war in Ukraine.

Sofia Moreira de Sousa, Head of the EC Delegation to Portugal, emphasises that learning the local language, developing personal relationships and creating a support network are key to true integration.

"It simply came to our notice. The European Commission is working relentlessly on several fronts to stop this terrible war, deal with its consequences and protect those seeking refuge in the EU. Cooperation with SPEAK For Ukraine gives us a concrete opportunity to volunteer and an opportunity to support people who are starting from scratch," said Moreira de Sousa.

For more, check out our lifestyle section.

Monday, 28 March 2022

Croats Providing Free Accommodation to Ukraine Refugees Must Pay Tax

March the 28th, 2022 - Remember that old saying about the only two certain things in life being death and taxes? Croatian residents and property owners providing free accommodation to Ukraine refugees escaping war following the Russian invasion of their country must still pay tax despite their good (and free) deed.

As Poslovni Dnevnik writes, Croatian residents who own property and who are receiving Ukraine refugees in their apartments and houses will still have to pay taxes despite making their offer free. The fact is that private landlords in Croatia must sign a lease agreement with Ukrainian refugees who they want to provide a home for in their house or apartment, and tax must be paid on that, even if the rent agreement is signed at zero kuna, the Tax Administration said, Slobodna Dalmacija reports.

According to the Income Tax Act, if the rental amount is reported below the market price - which includes free rent - then the Tax Administration determines the rental price according to the standard rental prices for the place where the property is located. It is a legal mechanism used to avoid an agreed reduction in the rental price between the private landlord and the tenant.

If it weren't set out as such, the two parties could agree to write 10 kuna below the value of the rent on the lease agreement, even though it is actually 200 euros per month, and as such, the landlord would pay less tax (and Lord knows, we can't possibly have that, can we?!).

"These are the rules for now and we can't change that, but it will probably be regulated differently once the announced aid package from the European Union (EU) is approved,'' they explained from the Tax Administration when commenting on this situation which some believe is punishing them for a good deed.

According to the latest data, 9,660 displaced Ukraine refugees have entered the Republic of Croatia so far, most of them being women and children, as Ukrainian men below a certain age typically stay and fight.

Most of these Ukraine refugees are accommodated in private accommodation, ie in apartments provided by Croatian residents. This figure totals 8322 people, ie approximately more than 2000 families. There are 23 of them in reception accommodation, and 1255 in collective accommodation.

For more on the Ukraine crisis and what Croatia is doing to help displaced persons, check out our politics section.

Friday, 25 March 2022

Nobody Exchanging Ukrainian Hryvnia in Croatia, Duty to Fall on HPB?

March the 25th, 2022 - The Ukrainian hryvnia is becoming an extremely tricky currency to deal with in any which way given the current dire events taking place in that country following last month's unjustified Russian invasion. With thousands of Ukrainian refugees now in Croatia, banks and exchange offices have been left scratching their heads.

As Poslovni Dnevnik/Ana Blaskovic writes, around 9,000 Ukrainian refugees who have arrived in Croatia and took some cash with them in a panicked flight before the war have nowhere to officially change it.

In Croatia, the Ukrainian hryvnia isn't being exchanged by banks or by exchange offices, the Croatian National Bank (CNB) confirmed recently. A decision is being made which would see Hrvatska postanska banka take over, but no agreement has been reached yet.

"Regarding the elimination of the problem regarding the purchase of the Ukrainian hryvnia currency, we would like to inform you that the possibility of taking over the purchase of the Ukrainian hryvnia by Hrvatska postanska banka is being considered," said the CNB, which expects a solution soon.

Nobody wants to take the risk

The problem with the purchase of the Ukrainian hryvnia is essentially its non-convertibility, the fear of money changers and bankers that they will have no one to sell it to, at least not without major losses involved. An exchange office which didn't want to be named confirmed that this situation is very real. It does have the Ukrainian hryvnia on its exchange rate list, but it no longer de facto buys it back because the set exchange rate was set deliberately very unfavourably.

"Basically, the Ukrainian hryvnia can be changed, but the exchange rate is set very low, so it doesn't pay off for anyone to do so. The Ukrainian hryvnia is only formally listed because we can't remove it from the list. The bank we work with has completely removed it from its exchange rate list. Nobody wants to risk a pile of banknotes because it isn't known what will happen to that currency,'' said an employee of the exchange office in question.

The issue of the value of the Ukrainian hryvnia is a thorn in the side of not only Croatian banks and exchange offices, but also other European countries to which refugees from Ukraine are arriving. The European Commission (EC) and the European Central Bank (ECB) are both seeking a quick solution to establish a mechanism to enable the conversion of a limited amount at a given exchange rate to limit possible abuse or exploitation of the situation.

On paper it all seems simple, but in practice, the scheme carries great complications as it requires members to guarantee that financial institutions will cover any losses.

According to the FT, members are willing to provide the necessary political guarantees, estimated at one billion to three billion euros, provided the amount is limited to 300 euros per refugee. More than 3.5 million Ukrainians have fled their homeland following Russia's invasion. One of the burning problems they face is the lack of cash to pay for food, clothing, accommodation and other necessities. The Ukrainian hryvnia they took with them can't be exchanged for the euro or other currencies owing to the aforementioned reasons.

In Poland, which has received 2.1 million Ukrainian refugees to date, one Polish zloty could be bought for seven Ukrainian hryvnias before the war, and today 20 hryvnias are demanded for the same amount. Back on February the 23rd, the Ukrainian hryvnia was worth 0.03 euros.

The actual value is unknown...

The reluctance of banks and exchange offices to buy the Ukrainian hryvnia arose because its true value is unknown after Ukraine halted the majority of transactions, froze the official exchange rate at pre-war levels and imposed a moratorium on foreign exchange transactions (except for war-related payments).

The ECB's proposal to the EC provides a European guarantee for the initiation of exchange rate losses to the central bank in which large quantities of Ukrainian currency would end up, at least until the end of the war. In Frankfurt, they concluded that without a guarantee (necessary from the members because it isn't currently provided for in the existing EU budget), they cannot change the Ukrainian hryvnia for euros, since that would be monetary financing which is prohibited by the EU Treaty.

For more, check our lifestyle section.

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