The tightly packed rows of cots stretch across the huge sports hall in Medyka. Mattresses lie on the floor along one wall. There is a blanket, pillow and clean towels on each bed.
oys throw soccer balls at the basketball hoops on the wall. In the far corner, Polish volunteers run a crèche to keep the smaller children and babies occupied for a while.
The reception center for refugees arriving from Ukraine will provide 350 people with a rest, shower, hot meal and bed every night.
The refugee reception center was supposed to be closed, but a local official smuggled us in because he felt it was important to highlight the plight of these people. In another nearby town there are 2,000 beds in a former Tesco supermarket.
Kristof, a Red Cross volunteer who traveled 500 km from the other side of Poland to help, explains what is happening here.
He will work here for six days, then another group will come to replace him and his colleagues.
“Stay here, register, stay 24 hours, then it’s on to the next point in Poland. Sleep, eat, get medical treatment and register here,” he says.
He says family and friends are coming from Poland, Germany, France and the UK to pick them up here. The Polish authorities are arranging for them to be taken to other places.
A mile away, across the rail line, at the Medyka border crossing, tens of thousands of people arrive every day.
Long queues form when hundreds of people wait for a bus at the same time in the cold.
The border crossing is a
an hour, 45 minutes drive from the Ukrainian city of Lviv in normal times. But these are far from normal times. In a rather surreal moment, the melody of Louis Armstrong What a wonderful world fills the air. An Italian living in Germany, Dario Marcelo, has brought a grand piano in a trailer and placed it on the side of the road to welcome the refugees.
Including Ina Kolesnyk, who is seven months pregnant. She is here with her sister Gaila and their young son Makar being fed in a stroller by the side of the road. Her own baby is due in May. The two women are pushing a stroller and carrying two suitcases. Instead of resting because she is so heavily pregnant, she endured an exhausting trip. Ina left her home near Kyiv on February 20 and made her way to the west of the country, before leaving there the day before to cross the border.
“We take documents, clothes and walk,” she says.
“My husband in Ukraine helps our army. He has to be strong and fire for our country.”
Her husband worked in Poland and he has friends there who will help her now.
“I don’t want to go but my husband says I have to for a future child.
“I hope it’s two to three days and I want to go home.”
She boards a bus to the reception center and the next day takes a train from the nearby town of Przemsyl.
A woman named Kristina wanders around looking for directions on how to get across the border.
“My daughter is on the Ukrainian side at the border. I wait in line and go back. Something like that. She’s 16. I live in Malta but she’s in her last week of school,” she says.
In Przemsyl train station, the corridors are full of people. People crowd together in a corridor. An elderly woman lies on her bags and tries to rest. Next to her, three children sleep next to their father.
When a train arrives, there is a crowd along the platform. Get on.
A train to Kraków departs at 6:08 p.m., people are standing in the doors.
Traffic across the border is not one-way as there is a continuous lane of cars, vans and trucks transporting people and relief supplies of all kinds to Ukraine.
At the rear of the Medyka Sports Complex is a smaller basketball court-sized gymnasium crammed with mounds of supplies – the mound of clothes rises near the roof, the mound of blankets tipping over the basketball ring, there’s another pile of diapers and toiletries, Stacks of canned goods and boxes and crates of medical supplies.
According to the labels on the boxes, they came mainly from Poland, but also from Germany, the Czech Republic, Austria and Italy.
This hall serves as a meeting point, because this is where people who drive back across the border come, fill their vehicle with everything they need and set off again. In the middle are four lads who have come over from Dublin and are helping to make room by offloading supplies.
Alan Gale from Lucan, Peter Sigula from Lusk, Aigars Joksts from Kimmage and Lukasz Mazur from Lucan all know each other from their construction work in Dublin.
Alan’s business contacts enabled her to quickly raise money and launch a website on her GoFundMe page
www.ukrainefoodtruck.com to collect donations. They came out on Thursday evening to get certain items to be shipped to Ukraine.
Yesterday they took a van and drove through the town of Rzeszow, collecting and loading the material. Last night they handed over supplies worth around 15,000 euros to a contact on the way back to Ukraine, including equipment for Ukrainian forces fighting the Russians.
“We bring medical supplies, clothes, military uniforms, we bring drones with high-resolution cameras so the military can use them to monitor or see what’s coming down the street. We’re hoping to set up accounts in that city where we can put the money into accounts so no money changes hands, we’ll only pay the bills when they need the gear,” says Alan.
The next batch will include headlamps, camping gear for troops fighting in the forest, and nets for camouflage, as well as more medical supplies.
A doctor in a clinical, emergency and intensive care
Nursing hospital in Lviv gave them an extensive list of medical equipment they need.
“That gear runs out tonight, and then we’ll make more trips to this city if needed,” says Alan, a 53-year-old father of three.
The four boys will remain on site for the next few days, helping out in the reception center and returning to Rzeszów if necessary to get more supplies.
The vast majority of the many people fleeing Ukraine are women and children.
Between one and two million Ukrainians already live in Poland.
The ethnic population has grown dramatically over the past decade as many fled to Poland after the Russian takeover of Crimea in 2014 and the start of the war in eastern Ukraine that was a precursor to Vladimir Putin’s invasion nine days ago.
As a result, many of those fleeing Ukraine find shelter with friends and relatives already living in the country.
The number of refugees passed the million mark this week, and between 500,000 and 700,000 of these people have come to Poland.
Another important reason why so many Ukrainians flee to Poland is the long border that the countries share. For many, it’s the closest route out of the country that doesn’t lead to Russia or Belarus.
But there is also long-standing cultural ties between the two countries.
https://www.independent.ie/news/fionnan-sheahan-on-the-ukraine-border-from-dublin-with-love-as-four-lads-bring-drones-and-medical-supplies-41413989.html Fionnán Sheahan at the Ukrainian border: From Dublin with love as four lads bring drones and medical supplies