Krafttaket – VG

The power of taking


First refugee arrived at the emergency reception center on the morning of February 24, the day Russia invaded Ukraine.

Since then, the number has doubled, day by day.

Now volunteers in the city receive 1500 to 2000 refugees every day.

VGer and Hrubieszow, a city of 18,000 inhabitants, five kilometers from the border with Ukraine.

Receptions at gyms appear almost by themselves, based on their location.

In the biggest refugee crisis Europe has experienced since World War II, Poland is taking on an important responsibility.

In the past three weeks, three million people have fled war-torn Ukraine.

1.9 million of them have come to Poland.

In two weeks, the capital has taken in as many refugees as the rest of Europe did in one month during the crisis in the Mediterranean.

– We are slowly on our way to being completely overwhelmed, Warsaw Mayor Rafal Trzaskowski told VG.

At the gym in the border town of Hrubieszów there is room for 500 refugees at a time.

At most, they had accommodated 650.

– You should have seen his condition a few days ago, says volunteer coordinator Magdalena Kazan.

Mattresses are everywhere. Every inch of the passage in the hall was occupied.

– We have to ask some men to go out at night, said Kazan.

Only women with children can sleep inside.

– Come here! smiling a middle-aged Polish man in a reflective vest.

Carefully, he holds the hand of a Ukrainian preschooler.

She had mouse braids – and now her hands were full of biscuits, chocolate, juice, chips and bananas.

“Give this to mother,” the man said.

“Oh, you!”, said the mother gratefully. He himself tried to track down three sausages in a bun.

Then the little family got on the waiting bus. They are going to Warsaw.

Volunteers waved.

Soon they will greet another bus, this time to greet.

20 new refugees got off the new bus.

This is now everyday life in a Polish border town.

Surrounded by three meters tall, crowded bookshelves, the mayor of Warsaw has a rare moment in his own office – to talk to VG.

He has taken a break from work at the train station, where he is helping with transportation and shelter for the refugees.

Here in the capital, in short, everyone is doing everything they can, says Rafal Trzaskowski.

There is no alternative.

Almost everything staff at City Hall have brought Ukrainians to their homes.

The city continues to send buses with medical equipment and emergency aid to cities across the border.

Without the massive mobilization of volunteers, the system would have long since broken down.

Poland believes that Ukraine is fighting for the entire freedom and stability of Europe, the mayor experiences.

Poland had to take up the task of caring for Ukrainian women and children.

But where is the rest of Europe when Ukraine is at war?

“Warsaw is full,” said the mayor recently Time.

To VG he explained:

– We improvise. Most of what we do is based on the goodwill of people. We can’t go on like this for another week. Or… we could go on like this for another week, but not for months.

If Putin strikes further west in Ukraine, the number could rise to six to seven million, according to estimates.

– It can overwhelm any city and country, says the mayor

He worries that burdening the city’s services over time will backfire. Those people will demand that their city return to the way it was.

– You have to remember that not everything lasts forever. We now know this great solidarity, but sooner or later problems may arise.

Dan grensebyen Hrubieszów None of the volunteers currently have time to think about anything other than helping those in need.

Outside the reception center, sausages and burgers from several grills are served

A gray-haired Polish firefighter swallowed the pieces before he had to head to the border again – to pick up a new group of refugees.

VG visited the border town on the twentieth day of the war.

The volunteers were very stressed, but still built well-oiled machines.

One week later the invasion has been made 28 reception centers around Poland. Since then, there have been many more.

The courtyard outside the hall in the border town was decorated with shoes in all the colors of the rainbow. anyone who wants, can take a pair.

If refugees need something that isn’t here, volunteers ask for it on the city’s Facebook page.

– One day we announced that we needed a baby seat for the car. A few hours later we have a full load here, volunteer Katrine Swat told VG.

First wave refugees are resourceful, with plans and relatives they can live with, explains Sonia Buchholtz, PhD at the Warsaw School of Economics.

Then came the second wave, with Ukrainians more traumatized, having fewer opportunities and less money in the bank.

The latest wave, which Buchholtz says is still ahead of us, are traumatized war victims, who have nothing to do with it and who require a lot of professional health care.

Two million refugees means 40,000-80,000 refugees every day. If it increased more now, everything would be wrong, predicts the Polish researcher.

– One or two million more … Hard to imagine, because Poland is already so crowded. Then there will be many children who do not get education and safe conditions to live under.

Shortcut, older woman grabs the microphone:

«Who wants to travel to Krakow? Those who want to go to Krakow, come here. Thank You!”

A group of older women and families of four signed up.

At any given time, there are at least 100 volunteers helping the refugees at the reception center. Ordinary people who want to enter.

Marta Majevska stands out. He had black high heels, a navy blue suit and freshly styled hair. He is the mayor of the border town.

Every day he spends hours in the gym and works hard to collect donations and financial contributions for the newcomers.

– We have tested. And the residents of Hrubieszów have passed the test, says the mayor:

Everything you see here is governed by them. Everyone who comes here is treated in the best possible way with care and affection.

The smell of dog food confirms that this also applies to four-legged animals.

When asked if the volunteers received a government grant for the priceless work, they simply laughed.

– Everything, absolutely everything you see here, except the actual building walls, was made and given away by volunteers, the mayor told VG.

– How long can you keep this up?

– I don’t see an end to this now. I thought it would take a long time. But we can’t stop what we are doing.

– This is a huge burden placed on you alone?

– I have three children. Mothers with children come here. We accept a two week old baby. We cannot refuse them, said the mayor.

Denis (2) and his mother Inna hope to return to Ukraine. Meanwhile, the two are looking for toys that have been donated.

– Many Poles think that they might be next, says Nupi researcher Jakub M. Godzimirski, an expert on Russian and European security policy.

He himself is Polish and thinks the spirit of hard work is great in his home country. Because of World War II, many people know what it’s all about, researchers point out.

How long the war will last has a lot to say about the consequences for Polish society, Godzimirski believes:

– The immediate consequence is that you get a population that grows five percent in two weeks.

This will trigger a lot of problems in terms of how the Polish people will care for these people, warns NUPI researchers.

Polish authorities have decided that they were providing 10 euros per day per private refugee choosing to house.

But it’s not a sustainable solution alone, says Sonia Buchholtz of the Warsaw School of Economics.

In fact, it is technically impossible to manage more Ukrainians in their own apartments and houses, he points out:

There is not enough space.

– It’s very difficult. We don’t know. We don’t have an organized refugee reception for them. And the savings from Ukrainians don’t mean much if they build a life from scratch.

The alternative is to send refugees from big cities to smaller villages. But then their chances of getting a job will also weaken.

Outside the city, infrastructure and health services are very limited.

But everything is not just dark:

Migration to Poland could be a positive thing for the country in the long run, according to economist Marcin Zielinski at the Polish Civil Development Forum (FOR) think tank.

– More people means more workforce. But it is important to remove the barriers that prevent people from using levels of education taken outside the EU, he said.

– Although there will be costs and disruptions in the short term, I think in the long term it will strengthen the strength of the European economy.

In the border town stand up a woman with long red hair and an oversized T-shirt with the logo of the Polish municipality stands busy behind a desk in the reception centre.

He ladled beef stew over boiled buckwheat for the hungry women and children.

Veronika Mileva (46) fled the war in Kharkiv a week ago. He packed his car full, picked up his little terrier and drove to Poland, where his daughter was studying.

He came no further than the reception center:

– I see that they need help here. My daughter is safe here in Poland, so I’m doing better for myself here, says Mileva Ukraine.

Now he sleeps in a camp bed with other refugees, while day and night he goes to help. He was very touched by what Poland did for Ukraine.

– I don’t expect war from Russia. But I also didn’t expect this support from the Polish people. Very touching, he told VG.

Not a day goes by without some of Hrubieszów’s volunteers crying.

– Lots of people work here for 20 hours at a time. Then they went home and slept maybe three hours. And then they are here again, says volunteer coordinator Magdalenda Kazan.

– They are exhausted, but can’t stay at home. They know they are needed.

Lance Heptinstall

"Hardcore zombie fan. Incurable internet advocate. Subtly charming problem solver. Freelance twitter ninja."

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