Ukraine Crisis: The view from Poland
“When the conflict started, we wanted to come to the border. It wasn’t safe, and we were afraid,” says Ganna, who has lived in Ukraine all her life. When the violence started, she knew she had to leave. Travelling with her children, her friend Kateryna, and Kateryna’s family, they fled to Poland in search of safety.
“We both have sons and husbands; they stayed behind. We hope to see them again,” says Ganna.
Since the start of the conflict on February 24, 2022, about three million Ukrainians have fled to neighbouring countries, but the number is growing so quickly, by the time you read this, it may already be out of date. Like Ganna and Kateryna, many of those arriving are women and children. They describe bombings, long, snowy journeys in sub-zero temperatures, the uncertainty of what happens next, and when they will see their families again.
Our emergency response team is on the ground in Poland, delivering urgent relief to families fleeing from the conflict.
A little girl sits amid belongings brought by refugees at a refugee reception centre on the Polish side of the Poland-Ukraine border.
The situation at the Poland-Ukraine border
Since arriving in Poland, our emergency response team has been visiting communities close to the Poland-Ukraine border. We aim to understand the situation for the families fleeing from the conflict and those in Poland who are hosting them.
Like many of the countries that border Ukraine, there has been an enormous outpouring of support from local organisations and volunteer networks in Poland. In one town, between 10,000 and 20,000 people had arrived from Ukraine in the span of just a few days. The town’s train station had been converted into a reception centre for refugees. Medics provided emergency health support and local volunteers handed out warm meals and blankets.
“The truth is that the volunteers are really heroes at the moment,” says Damon Elsworth, Emergency Response Team Lead. “Many of them have left their jobs for a week to do this.”
In another community close to the border, the town mayor, Bartosz, explained to our team why his community was eager to help those who were fleeing the conflict in Ukraine.
“In Ukraine, people are having trouble reaching the border because of bombings and checkpoints. It is not an easy journey,” Bartosz explains. “People in my community saw the need and had compassion for the people coming across the border.”
For him, it felt personal, he says.
“I have a seven-month-old baby. The first day people started arriving, I saw lots of young children coming across with their parents. Many of them were crying; as the father of a seven-month-old, it really made me relate to what these families were going through. It made me want to help any way I could.”
There are pressing humanitarian needs at the borders, especially for essential items like soap, blankets, and feminine hygiene products. As the destruction and trauma inside Ukraine continue, health and mental health support is also urgently needed. Local organisations and volunteer networks are at the heart of the response, but they are quickly being stretched to capacity as the number of displaced people grows.
A caregiver and child hold hands at a reception centre for Ukrainian refugees in Poland.
Our next steps
Right now, the team in Poland is supporting families and meeting their needs in ways that preserve their dignity, wellbeing and mental health. To do that, we are coordinating closely with local services, volunteer networks, and other humanitarian organisations to ensure that support is delivered efficiently and reaches the greatest number of people possible.
As we are responding in Poland, we are also very aware that humanitarian needs inside Ukraine are growing. We are working on getting the necessary permissions to begin providing support inside Ukraine as soon as possible.
Food for refugees from Ukraine is prepared and served at a reception centre on the Polish side of the Poland-Ukraine border.
This conflict is leading to a humanitarian catastrophe. This is clear in the ever-increasing humanitarian needs and the stories we hear from those who have safely made it out of Ukraine. Acting now, allows us to provide the support families like Ganna’s need to help recover from their ordeal and find hope in the days to come.
We do not have a second to lose.