A test for Poland

Nearly one million Ukrainians have sought refuge in neighboring Poland. There, an entire country has mobilized to take them in. State authorities have called for coordinated actions. Volunteers, like Marta, point out that this situation "has changed their priorities".

Barbara Stefańska-March 6, 2022-Reading time: 3 minutes
Ukraine_ Irena Świerdzewska

Photo credit: Irena Świerdzewska "Idziemy". Svetlana with her daughters Sofia, Nastia and grandmother Yefrosienia.

Tekst oryginału w języku polskim tutaj/ original text in Polish.

Volunteers waiting 24 hours a day at the train station for the arrival of refugees, people welcoming new arrivals into their own homes, generous financial aid and constant prayers: we wholeheartedly sympathize with our brutally attacked neighbors.

The number of refugees from Ukraine whoe have arrived in Poland, so far, is approaching one million. There are several reception points in the Polish capital, Warsaw. Trains full of Ukrainians fleeing the war arrive at railway stations, with huge delays.

With only one suitcase

Ukrainians leave the country in pain, leaving behind relatives, parents or siblings. Valentina arrived with her 3-year-old son Mark, while her husband stayed behind to fight in the defense of Kiev. She was waiting for a full day at the train station, without light, to leave the Ukrainian capital.

Svetlana with her daughters Sofia, Nastia and her grandmother Yefrosienia survived a journey full of fear. This is how they explained it to Irena Świerdzewska of the weekly 'Idziemy',: 'We live on the outskirts of Kiev. We practically did not leave the shelter. When we took the train, a plane passed over us, we were very scared. It was terrible. Now we feel better, calmer. We are glad that we managed to get out - thank God!".

Volunteers wait day and night for the new arrivals in Poland. They give them coffee, tea, soup and toys for the children. "They are very grateful to us," says volunteer Marta Dybińska, a Ukrainian-speaking blogger. "They flee with a single suitcase in which they have all their belongings," she describes, "they are very modest and say they don't need anything. One refugee finally admitted that his feet hurt a lot because his shoes were broken. A girl heard him and immediately went to buy new shoes at the mall," he recalls.   

Marta admits that there are no words to comfort them. They are worried about those left behind, in Ukraine: "A woman who came with her two daughters showed me on her cell phone a video sent from there and said "Here was our apartment. Now it is bombed".

Many Ukrainians who have previously lived in Poland are involved in helping refugees, which facilitates communication. "Being in this place changes our priorities" admits Marta, "you realize that you don't have to have so many dresses and bags, but you have to be human."

Marta Dybińska (left) next to some refugees.

No refugee camps

State and local authorities, church institutions headed by Caritas, many parishes, associations and individuals have been very involved in providing aid. In Poland there are no refugee camps, as in the images we know from the media during armed conflicts. Ukrainians are accommodated in various centers and also in private homes. Some are taken in by relatives living in Poland, while others are taken further west.

Marina and Wołodia, with their four children aged 2 to 16, ended up at the Caritas center in Urle, near Warsaw. They rushed out of their home and managed to ride on the steps of a crowded bus.  

Before the Russian aggression, several hundred thousand migrants from Ukraine had already arrived in Poland to work. Now, some of them have been joined by relatives. One of them is Alona, a seamstress by profession, who works in Warsaw as a cab driver. After the outbreak of war, she was joined by her mother and two young daughters. Her father stayed in the country to fight.

A long-term plan

Many individuals are joining in to help. Frequently, in WhatsApp groups and chats, this type of message appears: blankets and mattresses needed, two refugees seeking shelter, clothing needed, etc. There is a great desire to support. In this regard, the state authorities have appealed not to bring gifts to the Polish-Ukrainian border personally, but to use coordinated actions. 

Last Sunday, the collection of Polish parishes went to refugees. They collected donations in kind and prayed fervently for peace for Ukraine.

For now, we in Poland are responding to immediate needs, but soon, these people will need long-term help. Refugees can benefit from the state health service, family benefits have already been announced, for example, and children are being placed in schools and kindergartens. Poland has faced a big challenge, exposing itself also to the aggressor. For now we are passing the test.

The authorBarbara Stefańska

Journalist and secretary of the editorial staff of the weekly "Idziemy"

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