Conflicts & War

The volunteers who attend to refugees from Ukraine

By Isaac J. Martin

Hrebenne, Poland, Mar 9 (EFE).- Agnieszska Kornecka never imagined she would become one of the hundreds of volunteers looking out for Ukrainian refugees arriving at reception points from across the border into Poland.

With a car packed with basic supplies, Kornecka, 28, took off from Warsaw on a more than 600-kilometer (373-mile) drive to reach the reception point of the village of Hrebenne, in southeastern Poland and bordering Ukraine, where hundreds of people – most of them women and children – are in need of shelter.

“It’s really sad, it’s horrible because you see people who are confused, they don’t know what help they will expect, they say they don’t need anything. You feel powerless,” said the law graduate about the hundreds of thousands of refugees who have reached border crossings between Poland and Ukraine.

A primary school in Hrebenne functions as a border reception point where dozens of volunteers are stationed to attend to the refugees and offer them food and drinks.

One of them was Janek Zyczknowski, a Polish member of the Order of Malta, who, at about 1 am, continued to serve drinks and snacks to refugees and to anyone who approached, well aware that a long and cold night lay ahead.

“We work 24 hours a day, seven days a week,” said the 27-year-old, who had to work an extra shift because his partner had called-in sick.

Meanwhile, the numbers at the border crossings continue to rise as Ukrainians flee violence and destruction, with the Russian offensive intensifying around large cities, such as Kiev and Mariupol, among others.

Poland is the country that has received the most Ukrainian refugees – 885,000 – since the Russian invasion started on Feb. 24, according to the latest data from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.

The vast majority of the work at reception points is done by volunteers, stressed Kornecka, adding that although the Polish government was making efforts in this regard, “it is not enough.”

She also provides shelter to Ukrainian families fleeing the conflict in her own home, like many others among her friends, an example of the warmth and hospitality offered by the Polish people during the humanitarian crisis.

Katia Shyshatskaya, a Ukrainian residing in Poland for the last five years, has been trying to deal with the emotional impact of the conflict – the first major one in Europe since the end of the Second World War in 1945 – while continuing to work.

Katia, 21, said her mother was in Ukraine, but preferred to stay there and do “everything possible” as a nurse to help the people of her city, Kirovograd, “without fear of death.”

For now, Katia said she has “cut her emotions” to be able to help her compatriots, and even considered joining the fight against the Russian troops but eventually did not because her mother would “kill her.”

“I couldn’t help if I let myself be carried away by my emotions, I want to help as much as possible and keep my focus there,” she stressed.

Kornecka, too, spoke of the need to remain calm every time while dealing with refugees, but acknowledged it was “difficult” and that she ends up carrying all her emotions back home where she can let it out and cry.

“You would never expect to see something like this” she said. EFE


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