As I write this message that accompanies and introduces our 2021 Annual Report, we have entered the second week of the invasion of Ukraine by the Russian armed forces. This military aggression has brought back the nightmare of war in Europe, as the world sees an escalation of ceaseless violence that includes civilian targets.
The severe economic sanctions imposed on Russia by the Western world and much of the rest of the world (including Australia and Japan, for example) are multiplying, isolating the country. The suspension of trade relations, the withdrawal of investment, the removal of Russian and Belarusian products from shelves (as our companies Biedronka and Hebe in Poland have done), the ban on all Russian aircraft and private planes from operating in and over the European and US space, and the removal of Russian banks from the SWIFT payment network are just some of the reactions expressing outrage at Russia’s actions. Also of note are the growing number of complaints filed with the International Criminal Court by 39 nations calling for an investigation into alleged war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide perpetrated by Russian forces in Ukraine, particularly in the cities of Kyiv, Kharkiv and Kherson.
With only a few days since the start of the aggression, it is too early to determine the full extent of the humanitarian and economic consequences in the short, medium, and long term. But it is already clear that the impacts will go far beyond the regional scale. At the moment, the immediate priority is to give as much support as possible to refugees, which the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees estimates to be more than 2 million people.
From the outset, Poland, which borders Ukraine and Russia, as well as Belarus, has been leading the efforts to welcome and support those fleeing the war. To date, and despite the ever-increasing numbers, it is estimated that more than 1.2 million refugees have entered Poland, and hundreds of hospitals have been placed on alert across the country, ready to receive the injured.
Poland and Ukraine have very close ties. Before this crisis, the Ukrainian community in Poland already exceeded one million people, easily integrated into the labour market and the country. Biedronka, for example, employs around 1,800 Ukrainian employees and to whom it immediately made a non-repayable contribution of 1,000 złoty to support their families.
This mutual relationship and understanding also underpin Poland’s enormous solidarity that the world is witnessing. Poles are sparing no effort to help Ukrainians, which naturally includes all our teams, who are fully engaged in these efforts.
In a few days, Biedronka and the Biedronka Foundation have already channelled the equivalent of 10 million złoty (over 2 million euros) to provide food and non-food support for Ukrainian refugees, implemented in collaboration with non-governmental organisations particularly active on the ground. The Biedronka Foundation also received 2.5 million euros from Sociedade Francisco Manuel dos Santos, the largest shareholder of Jerónimo Martins, to support the accommodation of refugees. And at the Group level, we announced the donation of 5 million euros, split equally among five Polish humanitarian aid institutions: the Red Cross, Caritas, Humanitarian Action, the Medical Mission, and the SOS Children’s Villages in Poland.
In short, we were able to quickly raise the equivalent of about 9.5 million euros to help people who are fleeing the war.
Also, in Portugal, our main companies – Pingo Doce and Recheio – immediately offered to participate in the collective effort to receive and integrate Ukrainian refugees coming to Portugal.
The situation in Eastern Europe adds complexity and uncertainty to a context already marred by unpredictability clouding economic recovery, despite the pandemic threat being largely ignored and receiving less media coverage in recent days.
Moreover, the accelerated inflation seen since 2021, particularly in the energy sector, is likely to be exacerbated by the military conflict, which will compound constraints in logistics routes.