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Poles helping out as Ukrainian refugee crisis intensifies

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has seen a huge influx of refugees into Poland and other neighbouring states. By Sunday, the Polish border had been crossed by about 200,000 people fleeing Ukraine, mainly women and children, but also the elderly. According to the UN, 300,000 people have fled, many also crossing over into Moldova.

According to Personal Service, the number could rise to from one million to three million people.

The Polish government has doubled the capacity at the border from 47,000 people who came from Ukraine to Poland on Friday, up to 77,000 on Saturday. Although all border crossings in Poland from Ukraine are open, there are even 40-kilometer long traffic lines on the eastern side.

General Tomasz Praga, the commander in chief of the  Polish Border Guard, said at a press conference on Sunday, that many were also trying to get to Poland through the green border, meaning the real numbers could be higher.

The Polish Minister of Interior and Administration, Mariusz Kamiński, said the situation was “extremely difficult” and that “you have to prepare for weeks or months of help.” He said Poland would accept all those in need and that work on establishing assistance infrastructure is underway.

Citizens’ help

According to a study by TGM Research, an international research institute, two-thirds of Poles said they are willing to help refugees from Ukraine. 

There are thousands of offers of assistance flooding the Polish internet, mainly offering homes to stay, clothes and food.

Facebook groups such as “The Visible Hand” or “Help for Ukraine” are incredibly popular.

In Kołobrzeg, far from the border on the Baltic Sea coast, there are 225 places ready to receive refugees. According to Michał Kujaczyński from the Kołobrzeg city hall, “we are constantly waiting for declarations of entrepreneurs who have opportunities in this regard. If necessary, the city is ready to organize further temporary places to which those in need may go.” 

Kołobrzeg, like a number of other Polish towns, has also organized collections for Ukrainians.

The Polish Center for International Aid, which operates in eastern Ukraine, helps to evacuate people from the vicinity of Kharkiv. The HumanDoc Foundation, which deals with education and activities aimed at solving global projects, has prepared a special guide to support those committed to helping effectively. 

Other help

Citizens of Ukraine can travel by Polish railways in Poland for free – in class 2, on TLK and IC PKP InterCity trains.

The Polish government has also lowered the cost of calls to Ukraine to 20% and is also sending alerts from the Government Center for Security to Ukrainian telephone numbers about the conditions for assistance in Poland. 

Flixbus has extended its offer across the Bug and strengthened the schedule from the border.

The owner of a hotel in Zakopane says his hotel is open to all refugees. Anyone who escapes from the war will find shelter and food for free. “I have a request for all colleagues who run hotels in Zakopane – follow our example,” the owner said. 

A temporary hospital at the National Stadium in Warsaw has been set up for sick or injured people from Ukraine. Poland has also decided to vaccinate all willing Ukrainians against Covid-19, as well as release them from compulsory quarantine after crossing the border.

The Polish Humanitarian Action group and the Polish Red Cross are also active, as are foundations, non-governmental organizations, cultural institutions and companies employing Ukrainians. The rector of the University of Wrocław told the rector of the Ivan Franko University in Lviv that the entire community of its sister university could count on help.

Read also: Polish foundation helps fleeing Ukrainians

Jo Harper
Jo Harper
Jo Harper is a British national with a 20-year freelance journalistic career in Poland, Germany and the UK, writing for Deutsche Welle, Politico, the BBC, the Daily Mirror, Gazeta Wyborcza, Polityka, New Eastern Europe and Forbes. He is a published author of books on Polish affairs and holds a PhD from the London School of Economics.