News digest: New law to further simplify the life of Ukrainian refugees

Parliament passes Lex Ukraine. Slovak embassy in Ukraine moves to Uzhhorod. Omicron subvariant BA.2 likely to be dominant in the country.

(Source: / Hej,ty)

Good evening. The Wednesday, March 23, 2022 edition of Today in Slovakia is ready with the main news of the day in less than five minutes.

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New law to provide more help to refugees from Ukraine

The parliament approved a law containing various measures aimed at making the life of Ukrainian refugees in Slovakia easier, dubbed Lex Ukraine.

The measures are related to health care, benefits for those who accommodate Ukrainians, jobs in schools as well as the defence and security of Slovakia.

The law, for example, expands the legal framework that regulates the command of designated Armed Forces units to a relevant NATO commander on Slovak territory. During the emergency situation, it should also be sufficient for Ukrainian teachers who would like to teach in Slovakia to prove their clean record by an affidavit, and a psychological assessment of mental capacity.

The country also allows for granting a pregnancy scholarship to pupils and students from Ukraine, and creates the possibility of offering help when protecting the cultural heritage of Ukraine.

At the same time, the state will offer people and providers of accommodation facilities a financial benefit for accommodating refugees from Ukraine and related services; it should amount to a maximum of €500 to €1,250 per month, depending on the number of rooms provided. It is to be paid through the local municipality.

The law also stipulates that the state will provide urgent medical care to Ukrainian refugees with temporary protection status, and expands the possibility for Ukrainian refugees to perform temporary internships in all medical professions. People with temporary protection should also have easier access to the labour market. Refugees do not have to pay municipal taxes and can open a bank account without the usual documents as well.

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Meanwhile, in response to the Russian attack on Ukraine, the parliament adopted an amendment to the law on public procurement, which will make it possible to exclude bidders from countries hostile towards Slovakia and its inhabitants from state business or business with companies active in fields like the energy sector or defence.

The changes, discussed in the fast-tracked proceeding, are expected to come into force on April 1.

More on the war in Ukraine

  • Altogether 49,311 refugees from Ukraine have asked for temporary protection. The Slovak-Ukrainian border has been crossed by 261,990 people so far; with 677 men, 1,745 women and 1,004 children crossing on Tuesday.
  • The Slovak Embassy will be established in Uzhhorod from March 24. Slovak diplomats were forced to leave the original location of Kyiv at the beginning of this month.
  • NATO wants to beef up its eastern wing by deploying four new battle groups in four countries, including Slovakia, said its Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg. The proposal will be discussed at the March 24 extraordinary summit in Brussels, where President Zuzana Čaputová will be present.
  • Slovakia will suspend its membership in two international banks where Russia has a strong position: the International Investment Bank and the International Bank of Economic Cooperation. The decision was approved by the cabinet, but it still needs to be passed by the parliament and ratified by the president.
  • People with temporary protection status will be entitled to receive an allowance for a child in alternative care, as stems from a regulation adopted by the cabinet in response to the inflow of refugees from Ukraine to Slovakia. The allowance can be given also to people who applied for asylum or subsidiary protection, and have found a job.
  • The police detained three internationally wanted persons at the border crossing in Vyšné Nemecké last week. They tried to blend with Ukrainian refugees in order to gain easier access to the EU. (Korzár)

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More problems with EU funds

Slovakia has another problem with European funds. Brussels auditors found several errors in the drawing of money from the Science and Research operational programme, which in 2019 became part of the Integrated Infrastructure Operational Programme (OPII).

Until the errors are investigated, the European Commission will not pay Slovakia a cent from the ongoing European funds projects belonging to this programme.

This concerns, for example, the construction of the tram railway in Bratislava-Petržalka, the purchase of new trolleybuses and reconstruction of railways and roads.

All these costs have to be paid by the Slovak state budget for now.

Coronavirus and vaccination news

  • 10,387 people were newly diagnosed as Covid positive out of 19,512 PCR tests performed on March 22. The number of people in hospitals is 2,370; and 24 more deaths were reported on Tuesday. The vaccination rate is at 51.26 percent; 2,819,271 people have received the first dose of the vaccine. More stats on Covid-19 in Slovakia here.
  • The Omicron subvariant BA.2 has most likely become dominant in Slovakia, according to Matej Mišík, head of the Institute for Health Analyses that runs under the Health Ministry. Even though the course of the disease is similar to the Omicron subvariant BA.1, the new subvariant spreads more quickly and can cause more reinfections. Meanwhile, the situation in Slovakia is stable, even though the incidence in some districts has increased.
  • The National Health Information Centre (NCZI) assigned the first dates for the administration of a third, booster dose of the Nuvaxovid vaccine. 2,407 people have registered for the vaccine so far, with 766 awaiting the first dose. 329 doses of Nuvaxovid have been administered.

Picture of the day

The State Theatre in Košice showed its support for the city of Mariupol in Ukraine by creating the word "Children" in Ukrainian out of candles. The gesture was part of the Light for Mariupol event, initiated by the National Theatre in Prague.

Feature story for today

Vladimir Putin bet on the West not caring if he invaded Ukraine. He lost that bet, but instead of folding his cards Putin is now doubling down. His new bet is that the West will eventually lose interest. In a longer war, Slovakia is one place where Putin will first look to test western resolve.

As the Ukrainians continue their heroic resistance, it’s becoming clear that fighting could go on for quite a while. One recent analysis by Thomas Graham, a former member of George W. Bush’s National Security Council and now a professor at Yale, presents a scary – but scarily realistic – picture for how that might look.

Read more in an opinion piece by Ben Cunningham.

Slovakia is one place where Putin will first look to test western resolve Read more 

In other news

  • The Supreme Court decided to exclude Judge Pamela Záleská from the Specialised Criminal Court’s panel of judges dealing with the murder of investigative journalist Ján Kuciak and his fiancée Martina Kušnírová, and the alleged ordering of the murders of two prosecutors and a lawyer. The court accepted an objection submitted by one of the defendants, Marian Kočner.
  • It will be possible to grant a national visa to people coming from six more countries, namely Northern Macedonia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, Georgia, Armenia and Moldova, as the cabinet approved at its Wednesday session. The proposal responds to the situation in Ukraine where compulsory military service for all men was declared in connection to the war. It should secure solutions for national and international transport in Slovakia, which is struggling with a shortage of truck drivers.
  • The cabinet approved the allocation of €100 million for payments to people insured by the state (for example children, women on maternity leave and retired people), and the increase in basic capital of the state insurer Všeobecná Zdravotná Poisťovňa.
  • A law was violated during the construction of the National Football Stadium in Bratislava, with the tender for technological equipment tailored to suit one specific company, as the Council of the Public Procurement Office confirmed. It decided on a motion submitted by the Let’s Stop Corruption Foundation.

More on today:

S-300 to stay in Slovakia if Russia leaves Ukraine, defence minister says Read more 

How Bojnice Castle became a fairy-tale place Read more 

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