Ukrainian refugees: What are volunteers doing at the Polish border?

Editor’s Note: Dezalet News journalist Kyle Danfei and photojournalist Christine Murphy visited the Ukrainian border between Poland and its surrounding countries to see the effects of the refugee crisis. This is the second of several dispatches from the border.

The village of Medica on the Ukrainian-Polish border has a strange scent combination. Diesel smoke from miles of rows of trucks idling at the port of entry, smoke from wood fire, roast chicken from auxiliary tents operated by United Seek, stable clouds from hundreds of cigarettes, And there is a stench drifting from the rows of harbors-a-potties.

Because she cleans them herself, except for those near Christie Nelson’s tent.

On March 2, long before global giants such as the United Nations and the Red Cross installed vast heated tents, Nelson, now London-based from California, was pushed up by a pedestrian gate in Ukraine. I was sitting in the hut. Border. Her mission was simple. It is to provide a safe place for women to raise their babies, change diapers, and receive tampons, pads and other hygiene products. And use a clean toilet. The cleanest in Medica.

“She was there before the big boy came here,” says Haimy Dunn of London, who teamed up with Nelson early in the war.

Polish authorities consistently call Medica the busiest border crossing throughout the crisis. This is mainly due to the railroads that run through the village. Trains evacuating people from the war-torn areas of eastern Ukraine pass through Medica, the first stop 10 miles west of the historic town of Plzemsil, about three times a day.

Now, in the third month of Russia’s invasion, more than 2.8 million refugees have flooded Poland, creating a colorful tent city in Medica.

It is a volunteer from all over the world and from Utah, many of whom continue to push back planes to carry out humanitarian activities and bring them back by a close community.

This is the front line of “war tourists” who are groups launching aid missions to Ukraine, soldiers fighting in foreign corps, and foreigners seeking adrenaline who want to get closer to the front line.

Others are called “volunteer tourists.” Social media influential people see serving meals in the afternoon as a way to increase Instagram’s influence.

It is a black market activity and even a trafficking hub, with signs around the gate warning you not to drive with strangers. “Trafficking does not sleep. Be vigilant and careful,” one reads.

This is literally the first taste of Poland for many refugees. Many refugees can get hot cups of soup, pizza, chicken shawarma and sandwiches and rest in a heated tent before embarking on their next trip.

Nelson was there to see it all grow.

“It exploded completely. I’m glad I was able to participate,” she said.


A unique sight awaits refugees dragging their luggage down the long cobblestone walkways towards the gates that mark the Polish border. It’s an Easter bunny.

“Slava Ukraini” (“Ukraine of Glory” in English), dressed in bright pink bunny costumes, greets children, women and old men when they officially enter Poland and shouts volunteers.

Some laugh and others shout “He róyamsláva!”. Or “glory to the hero”. Others simply show a tired smile or bow their heads when they get nervous into a foreign country that is likely to be their foreseeable future home.

After passing through the gate, refugees walk through what many volunteers now call “boulevards.” It has a lively yet calm atmosphere like an open-air market. There are hot dishes, people screaming, and music crying. Children sometimes dance while rescuers rush past.

The bag hangs under the eyes of most volunteers. Many interviews are accompanied by tears.

“Today is a tough day,” Nelson said the morning after a deadly missile attack in Lviv, just 50 miles away. She saw a volunteer sobbing and pushing an elderly man in a wheelchair past the tent. “I have a lot of tears today.”

The tents are lined up on the main street. A large Red Cross tent was first seen by many refugees, soon followed by a station for Nelson’s mother and baby.

Then there are international groups such as World Central Kitchen, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, UNICEF, and Borderless Rescue Teams. There are religious groups like United Seek, the Jewish Agency for Israel, and sometimes Jehovah’s Witnesses. There are Orange Phones and they offer a free mobile plan. The International Fund for Animal Welfare also has a vast blue tent where refugees can take their pets.

Some lesser-known groups have left their mark on Medica, despite their small budgets.

Refugees go through the NGO maze, past the food truck before the sidewalk arc leaves, and end at the bus stop. There, Ukrainian lines pile up as people look for buses, call taxis, and wait for friends. For many, it marks the end of the escape from Ukraine, and the beginning of the unknown.

A warm smile, a glass of soup, a new stroller

Nelson, like most volunteers, stands under a tent and wears a neon vest over a green hoodie in search of afternoon rain shelter. She greets everyone passing by, but like Anastasia Matsura, she pushes a two-month-old baby across the border in a stroller with broken wheels and crosses the cobblestones as she passes Nelson’s tent. I am keenly looking at the young mother who dragged. ..

After a gentle persuasion, Matsura walked to the tent and perused the hygiene products before taking the diaper. Nelson crouched down, appearing in a brand new stroller a few seconds later. Volunteers picked up a broken stroller from Matsura and threw it into a garbage dump.

“It’s a great help for them to travel to this unknown land, greet them with a smile, and hug them,” says Nelson, standing by Matsura and looking at the new baby stroller.

Nelson, a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, now a London-based marriage and family therapist, saw a woman and her children on the subway in late February with a huge bag. I came back from the church. Of aid for Ukraine. She drove her family to an apartment on the outskirts of the city. There, Polish builders organized a van convoy to deliver donations to refugees fleeing the old war.

“Do you need a driver? I’m from a large family. I know how to drive a van,” said Nelson, who grew up with nine siblings in California.

In less than 24 hours, she embarked on a 1,200-mile journey through Europe. The coordinator paired her with Dan in London.

And when she arrived at Medica, she knew she had to stay. During the frigid Polish winter, a small group of volunteers were trying to stay warm in the car. Workers even donated large amounts of summer clothing to keep themselves and refugees warm. It wasn’t very well thought out, “says Dan, who eventually returned to Medica to work in Nelson’s tent.

A long line of refugees trying to pass through the Ukrainian side lasted for four days, and border crossings could accommodate up to 11,000 people per day. It questioned — four days later, what is the refugee’s greatest need? Are 90% of them women and children?

“They needed to change diapers, change pads if they were bleeding, and need to care for their baby,” Nelson said. “That’s what we do here. It’s an immediate service for women and babies.”

From time to time she crosses the border into Ukraine, delivering art supplies, diapers, women’s hygiene and even washing machines to a school that has turned into an instant orphanage. Still, it’s difficult to separate Nelson from the tent. Ironically, she calls her “my baby.”

The dark side of Medica

Despite the flood of altruistic volunteers, the tent city is hungry. Trafficking reports have long plagued Medica and its surrounding refugee camps. Police stop all vehicles leaving the parking lot, turning from a grocery store just 10 miles away to a refugee center.

“In all solidarity, there are people who have no good intentions behind their actions,” said UNHCR spokesman Olga Salad. “In the midst of this turmoil, traffickers and smugglers, they just appear.”

Some volunteers have ominous intentions — reports of pedophiles suspected of working for one of the NGOs have been cut off by many at Medica. Others return in the morning to find their tents looted, and can see several former Polish Special Forces soldiers hired as guards walking down the boulevard. I can do it.

There are even rumors of a secret Interpol officer lurking around the camp, according to several volunteers who spoke to Dezalet News.

Organized crime has skyrocketed and the generosity of volunteers has been used to resell free humanitarian aid such as food, clothing and supplies. According to one volunteer, they even have “well-documented” storage lockers in Medica.

Due to its popularity, volunteers are considering creating “most wanted” posters for repeat offenders.

“This was the only place I could think of.”

Medica volunteers come from all over the world, and as you walk down the boulevard, you usually hear a mosaic of languages ​​such as Ukrainian, Polish, Russian, English, Spanish, German, Hebrew, and Chinese. It is a target.

Jim from Australia is a former park ranger who was traveling in Europe and was in Ukraine a few months before the war began. He changed his plans, moved to the border to help bring out his friends, and has been cooking pizza ever since.

There is a Boston-based engineer, Christina, who was born in Ukraine and is aspiring to the Red Cross.

There is Olga, a social worker in Kieu who was on vacation visiting a friend in Krakow in late February when the invasion began. “I didn’t expect this to happen,” she said, standing under the UNHCR tent she is currently volunteering for.

And there is De Tapia, who originally volunteered with her partner in late March. After staying for a week, they returned to Salt Lake City.

“This was the only place I could think of,” she said. “I can’t forget what’s displayed here. It’s very moving … my heart was still here.”

She returned to work at Milk Creek’s Cactus and Tropical and passed a motion for another week before booking a ticket to Poland. Now you can see her working at the Scottish-based charity Siobhan’s Trust, blowing bubbles to passing children and showing her a warm smile while serving pizza. increase.

Volunteer Jennifer Detapia of Salt Lake City on the right will present strawberries to refugees passing through the Siovans Trust Tent on the Polish-Ukraine border in Medica, Poland, on Thursday, April 21, 2022.

Christine Murphy, Dezalet News

“Giving them soup, it’s like a hug. It’s a warm hug,” she says.

Once a carrier in alternative fuel infrastructure, De Tapia gave up the comfort of his home in Salt Lake City to live in a musty camper van on the edge of the boulevard.

The shower is a rare luxury. She hasn’t washed yet, even though she stayed and had only a week’s worth of clothes for nearly a month. And on her birthday, she worked a 12-hour night shift to keep her soup warm and give refugees hot tea.

“The most important thing is to recognize people’s humanity,” says DeTapia. Like many volunteers, she begins to cry when she speaks.

“Many people come across and say they were treated like animals. And we think it’s very important … we relate to them as people. And we Let them know that they are safe and people care. “

The community where DeTapia fell in love is changing. The number of refugees is much smaller. There may be significantly more volunteers than Ukrainians. This is the overwhelming reality that some well-meaning newcomers are enthusiastic volunteers the moment they arrive in Poland.

And volunteers come and go, and many of them are now burned out of long days and emotionally demanding work.

“I was able to stay, but everything has changed here,” she said, cleaning up her camper van and preparing to return it to the rental company before moving to a nearby small shared-room apartment. ..

“Now there are so few refugees that it seems that our resources need to be elsewhere,” she said.

https://www./u-s-world/2022/4/28/23039916/medyka-volunteers-welcome-ukrainians-russia-invasion-how-many-refugees-poland Ukrainian refugees: What are volunteers doing at the Polish border?

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