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The Press in Poland | At the gates of the land of welcome

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Of all the countries bordering Ukraine, Poland has seen the largest number of refugees knocking on its doors. The authorities are doing what they can to manage the arrivals of these hundreds of thousands of people, who fled Vladimir Putin’s war on foot, by car or by train.


PHOTO SARAH MONGEAU-BIRKETT, THE PRESS

As Ukrainians between the ages of 18 and 60 have been ordered to take up arms to join the resistance, it is mostly women and children who have crossed the border in recent days. Here, at Przemysl station, they are piled on top of each other. They are served food – with a little help, this young boy who didn’t speak Polish managed to find sandwiches for his whole family.


PHOTO SARAH MONGEAU-BIRKETT, THE PRESS

Sitting on a bench in this same station, her hair in bushes, Alina Skurativska does not want to be photographed. She packed her suitcase immediately after seeing missiles raining down on Kiev in broad daylight. “I feel that my life has just slipped through my fingers. I still can’t believe Putin did this. The Russians have always been friends, neighbours,” laments the 38-year-old woman.


PHOTO SARAH MONGEAU-BIRKETT, THE PRESS

We constantly hear the sound of rolling suitcases at the Medyka border post, where the refugees are flocking. They sometimes choose to flee on foot, despite the cold weather they have to endure even when they arrive at their destination, miles separating them from their goal. Once their papers have been validated, they set foot on Polish soil, where buses are waiting to take them to shelters.


PHOTO SARAH MONGEAU-BIRKETT, THE PRESS

Crossing the more than 500 km long border by car is another option, but it does not necessarily mean speed. In the first days of the exodus, we were treated to monster traffic jams in Ukraine. According to the latest UN count, more than 377,000 Ukrainians have entered Poland since the start of the war.


PHOTO SARAH MONGEAU-BIRKETT, THE PRESS

“We saw two people being shot. One in the stomach, one in the leg,” says Liza Kolesnychenko (left). She and her friend Diana Kovalenko have deserted Kiev, where they are studying. The two 21-year-old women are worried about their families. “The Russians have taken over their neighborhood. They enter the houses as they want,” says Liza, whose parents live in Kherson, near Crimea.


PHOTO SARAH MONGEAU-BIRKETT, THE PRESS

Polish soldiers are at work at the warehouse where the refugees from Krakovets, Ukraine meet. They help carry suitcases, ensure traffic flow and safety, and they take special care of children – handing out treats at the entrance to the building helps the building fulfill this mission.


PHOTO SARAH MONGEAU-BIRKETT, THE PRESS

The comings and goings in the warehouse are dizzying. Here, we photocopy IDs, there, we get together with the family for a video call or we play cards, while elsewhere, we try to close our eyes after a grueling journey. At the reception, we somehow manage arrivals and departures – for each person who leaves, another arrives by bus.


PHOTO SARAH MONGEAU-BIRKETT, THE PRESS

Ludmila waits on the platform of the Pzermysl station with her little sister and her daughter. It took two days – rather than five hours – to travel by train between his village and the border. The last stop on their itinerary: Warsaw. The capital is a favorite destination for many refugees.

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