One of our Synod ministers has a friend currently volunteering as an aid worker in Poland just over the border from Lviv in Ukraine.
Update posted 25th June (original post 7th April)
Update on return to Przemyśl:
After being forced to wait 9 weeks in the UK for my renewed passport, I’m now back in Poland. The refugee reception centre has changed a lot since I was here in April.
There are fewer refugees now, but their needs are different. There are many more elderly women, and more children. Most of the people who have arrived here have been hiding underground for a very long time.
I don’ t mean to be disrespectful but I want to put them all in a bubble bath for a good soak, that is the kindest way to describe them 🙁
Despite that, the children are still running around like loonies being children but every now and then you will look into their eyes and see that they haven’t forgot the trauma they have suffered. Those eyes have a deep impact on all of us volunteers. It’s enough to make me cry, but we don’t have time for our own emotions.
It is great to see mum now in charge. And despite being an amputee in a wheelchair, people listen to her as she really is on top of things now. It is also great to see some of the faces of volunteers that I last saw in April.
After getting up at 2.30am and not going to bed till midnight, our sleep in our cots (camp beds provided for volunteers to sleep on in the reception centre) last night was greatly needed.
I’ll try to get another update to you soon.
… with mum in Przemyśl
No news today as I have returned from Poland to gather resources.
Not much new to tell. It’s hard to come to terms with the vast numbers of people fleeing Ukraine. They come by train, by bus and a few in cars. Most are weary walking. Our biggest difficulty is that we can supply them with clothes and temporary accommodation and food, we can help them get visas etc but we are running desperately short of strong sealable bags. My daughter Angela’s back in the UK trying to gather up bags and cash for us to take back to Poland on our next visit, later this week.
(sorry for the delay in sending, it’s been a busy day and it’s not always easy to get a signal)
We went shopping in the morning for face paint and makeup which is used at a station in the centre to entertain the children and teenagers. However these were very hard to find so we bought sanitary products and bubble-blowing fluid and wands.
Upon returning to the centre I ended up in the mother and baby room again where I might have gotten into a bit of trouble but luckily didn’t. I refused to separate a 15 year old boy from his mum and baby brother and gave them a bed in the room. I was told if anyone complained I’d have to deal with it. Thankfully, no one did 🙂
I found a driver, called Dan, a teacher from London. He took two young mums and their babies to a hostel 2 hours away and part of our donated funds paid for the fuel to get them there. They have gone to a lovely place with other mums and babies, they were very grateful.
Yet again there was drama in the big room. We were told that the last train had left for Warsaw so they would have to get the bus at 3am for the 4am train. Okay let’s give out beds. Guess what? Government lady not happy again. We were required to find out how many are for Poland or undecided. So we take Alex (a Ukrainian refugee that is volunteering as a translator all day long while waiting to come to the UK) and ask ask each family where are they going. Out of the whole room there were only 36 that were for Poland or undecided. So a special bus is put on to take them to the train station. Apparently all we need to do is call the fire brigade and they bring a bus, we didn’t know this.
Anyway, sorted them out and on their way.
Dan arrived back and had found three Germans that had driven over the border with a minibus full of aid. Can we unload it? Of course. Go organise the trolleys. While doing this they tell me they would like to take 7 people back to Germany in the morning, Excellent! So we arrange this too – by the way all drivers and dwellings are properly vetted before people can leave.
Dan leaves or so I thought. About half an hour later I hear my name. Dan has found a man working at an outside kitchen that has LOTS of money to donate to help disabled adults and children, especially with trauma counselling. Luckily, I just happen to know of a project working in Romania and Moldova that is doing just that! So I took his details and will pass them on.
To end the day I handed out what resources we had left to the children in the big room. The smiles on their faces was priceless. All in all it was a jam packed day.
A difficult day…
Today has been the hardest so far. We went into Tesco this morning and cleaned and organised the big room as we expected. Throughout the day we told people to come back at 2pm as the government here cannot afford to staff this place 24hrs a day, even with so many international volunteers.
At 2pm we had the biggest queue that we’d seen so far, with weary, tired people just wanting somewhere safe to rest. We allocated a few beds, when a woman appeared and told us that the government has said this room cannot open today till 8pm. These people need to get on buses and go somewhere else. Where? She couldn’t say. It absolutely broke our hearts to turn these people away. A smile did not cut it!
We did lots of apologising and turned people away. We did our best to find people beds in other places but this only helped a tiny number of those who needed assistance. They’re exhausted physically from the effort of fleeing everything they know and mentally, the trauma of it all meant they’d suffered more than enough.
We took a a twenty minute lunch break, and a much needed seat with a cuppa and then got back to it.
I helped to reorganise the mother and baby room. We have 120 beds in there for mums with under 3s. When I left there were only 3 empty beds.
We know we are helping but it’s pitifully little in the face of such great need.
After a 14 hour shift we are done for the day, and knackered. To bed, to rest, and then back to it again tomorrow. It would be good if tomorrow brings more hope.
Day two at the Tesco centre.
We have just finished an 11 hour shift! When we arrived we stripped out and cleaned the large bedroom, 350 beds. Moping sanitising and rearranging ready for the room to open again at 2pm. Some people have taken buses to their next destination, others are still waiting. The language barrier was a bit trickier today but with lots of hand gestures we were able to communicate. By 8pm all the beds had gone. We then made another area to take more people after this it will be the corridors.
I spent some time in the mother and baby room today. May have held a baby or two so their mums could go to the loo. Amongst all the commotion and activity, inside this room is very calm.
We ran out of pillows today and were very close to running out of blankets.
There is a Dutch company that are providing chips, sausages and chicken nuggets and an Italian place that do delicious pizza that kept us going today. My body is aching but my heart is full. We helped many people today and that is humbling. Time for a rest and back to it again tomorrow…
Wow what a day. We arrived and after finally getting our hire car we were off.
The World Central Kitchen didn’t have any shifts today so we went to a hotel that we heard was organising volunteers. The lovely lady there didn’t have anything for us so suggested we go to Tesco. There is a shopping centre that has been emptied of the businesses and turned into a receiving centre. We found out how to register and off we went into the centre.
My words will not do this place justice. It can facilitate 1300 people at one time and it is mostly full ALL the time. Refugees are brought here from the border and registered. If they know where they want to go next, they are given a worker who helps them find a way and sort out any visas. They are then given a bed (camping cot) and clean bedding. Everything in the centre, except for the pharmacy, is FREE. There is a kids club also that gives the mums a bit of a break. There are multiple food outlets and facilities to shower.
Is this what I expected? No. The people here are just like you and me. They are only here because it is unsafe at home. There are all ages here and from all sorts of backgrounds. Also the amount of people and this is only one location about 1,000 people a day pass through here. Some stay for a few hours others for a few days.
How am I communicating? I only speak English but I can SMILE and that is a universal language. Today I met a little boy called Colin (at least, that’s what his name sounded like). He was about 7, we chatted with smiles and broken English for a bit and then on my next loop around he was gone, I wish him well.
Mostly we emptied bins today and sanitised them and thats okay because ANYTHING we can do WILL help.