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The Press in Poland | With open arms

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(Krakow, Poland) On the second floor of the Dom Rzemiosła Art Gallery, near Krakow’s Old Town, Damir runs from one end of the room to the other. He laughs out loud. Oksana Lyshnikova watches her toddler of 1 year and 7 months. Arrived in the morning from Kiev, she expressed her hope to see Ukraine win the war. And her wish – who knows – to return home one day. Then she flinches.

“Never would I have believed that such a war was possible in the 21stand century. Let it break out at home, at my house, ”she says. Her shoulders begin to shake, and her tears begin to flow. She dries them with a handkerchief. His gaze is redirected to his little boy, who does not understand what he is doing in an art gallery that has temporarily become a sorting center for refugees.


PHOTO SARAH MONGEAU-BIRKETT, THE PRESS

Volunteers work at the Henryka-Reymana stadium in Krakow

“The only positive side is that everyone is so generous here,” she says.

In many places in the Polish city, for the past four days, people have been working to prepare adequately for the arrival of Ukrainians fleeing the war – especially women and children, men aged 16 to 60 having been warned to take up arms in order to defend the country against the attack of Russia.


PHOTO SARAH MONGEAU-BIRKETT, THE PRESS

Collecting donations at Henryka-Reymana Stadium, Krakow

It’s the real commotion in the shade of the Henryka-Reymana municipal stadium on Sunday. The weather is gray and cold – but nothing to stop people from flocking there, their arms loaded with bags full of clothes, objects and food. At the entrance, cars line up waiting for a volunteer to tell them where to go to empty their cargo.


PHOTO SARAH MONGEAU-BIRKETT, THE PRESS

Andrzej Kuliq, deputy mayor of Krakow

“There was a call for solidarity from the Ukrainian authorities, and the people of Krakow responded in huge numbers,” said Andrzej Kuliq, deputy mayor of Poland’s second-largest city. “It is expected that around 17,000 Ukrainians will take up residence in Krakow after applying for asylum,” he estimates.

Help difficult to deliver

Within four days, 200,000 Ukrainians entered Poland, according to the Polish Press Agency on Sunday. But there are more than 44 million inhabitants in Ukraine, so the donations that are tirelessly busy sorting out 300 to 500 volunteers at the sports stadium are mainly sent to Ukraine.


PHOTO SARAH MONGEAU-BIRKETT, THE PRESS

Piotr Zietara

The operation is not simple, testifies Piotr Ziętara, CEO of Krakow Water.

“Yesterday, we wanted to send a first load of 40 tonnes of water from Krakow to Lviv. It was not possible, so we stored it in Przemyśl [ville frontalière polonaise] “says the businessman, dressed in a yellow sweater and a blue coat, colors of the flag of Ukraine.

You can see them in the windows of some apartments while walking through the streets of the city. It also floats on the faded awning of the city’s Slavic mission. This is where Alina Kaminska, city councilor in Krakow, takes us, a real dynamo. “You can come in, go ahead, come in,” she says.


PHOTO SARAH MONGEAU-BIRKETT, THE PRESS

Volunteers sort donations at Krakow’s Slavic Mission

Difficult to make your way there: the cramped quarters are overflowing with material gifts. In the company of a few friends, Andrew Shutovskyi struggles to carry bags and boxes to fill the hold of a bus whose driver has been driving almost day and night since Vladimir Putin ordered the invasion of Ukraine.

“My family is still there, in Kiev. I also have friends there. They constantly have to take refuge in the basement of their apartment building when the sirens sound,” says the 30-year-old, a native of Ukraine. In 2014, when he saw the situation deteriorating in the Donbass, he chose not to return home.


PHOTO SARAH MONGEAU-BIRKETT, THE PRESS

Slavic Mission volunteers fill a bus with donations for Ukrainian refugees

“We were exhausted”

In the back room of the overheated premises of the Slavic mission, and on the first floor, bunk beds have been installed to accommodate Ukrainian refugees. Children, including Sasha, were there on Sunday afternoon. His father came to drop him off there at night, with his older brother, his mother, Oiena, and his grandmother Nadia.


PHOTO SARAH MONGEAU-BIRKETT, THE PRESS

The sons of Oiena, in a dormitory set up in the premises of the Slavic mission

“We were exhausted. The air raid sirens sounded several times a day, and at night too, because we live near oil installations,” says the oldest member of the family. “When we saw that this was the kind of facility Putin was going to target, we decided to leave,” she adds.


PHOTO SARAH MONGEAU-BIRKETT, THE PRESS

Oiena and her mother Nadia (left)

On the other side of the street, the pastor of a Polish Protestant church wishes aloud, in front of his flock, that God forgives the Russian authorities for what they have done.

Fears of an overflow in Poland

In Poland, some fear that the conflict will overflow the borders of Ukraine. After all, on the Kremlin strongman’s list of problems is NATO’s expansion to countries like Romania and Poland, which are home to the alliance’s political and military bases.

“Even if I don’t like the comparison very much, I’m really afraid that we are witnessing the repetition of a scenario that Hitler implemented,” breathes Andrzej Kuliq, deputy mayor of Krakow. At his side, Robert Piaskowski, responsible for culture at the Krakow town hall, has the same concerns, for the same reasons.


PHOTO SARAH MONGEAU-BIRKETT, THE PRESS

Robert Piaskowski, Head of Culture at Krakow City Hall

“It looks like the situation in 1939 […]. It’s the same barbarism. Of course, we are part of Europe, we have much more security, but still, there is fear. I don’t think Putin will stop”, argues, in excellent French, the man who also fears for UNESCO World Heritage sites, such as the city of Lviv, in western Ukraine, where air raid sirens began to sound.

As a man of culture, he emphasizes the fact that the environment lends a helping hand.

As did the Dom Rzemiosła gallery, where Oksana Lyshnikova and little Damir found refuge. “I have never seen a mobilization of this magnitude,” notes Karol Wilczynski, of the humanitarian organization Salam Lab. “We have compiled a database of accommodation whose owners are ready to receive refugees. There are more than 2000 so far,” says the community worker.


PHOTO SARAH MONGEAU-BIRKETT, THE PRESS

The Dom Rzemiosła Art Gallery has been transformed into a center where the distribution of donations and the accommodation of refugees are coordinated.

Different migration treatment

However, Karol Wilczynski cannot help lamenting the difference between this migration crisis and the one that erupted just a few months ago, when Polish border guards double-locked the door to migrants from countries like Afghanistan or Iraq trying to enter from Belarus.


PHOTO SARAH MONGEAU-BIRKETT, THE PRESS

Karol Wilczynski

“It’s a racist policy. We accept white refugees from the Ukraine, but not refugees from the Middle East. The approach of the authorities and the population is different”, deplores Mr. Wilczynski.

The Polish government has been criticized for its handling of the issue, and it has divided the population. As have other crises before, including the abortion issue or the adoption of a controversial media law.


PHOTO SARAH MONGEAU-BIRKETT, THE PRESS

Alina Kaminska, city councilor of Krakow

Here it is again, which seems to be coming together again, believes city councilor Alina Kaminska, whose phone did not stop ringing on Sunday. “We no longer feel them, the divisions, at the moment, because it’s time to stick together”, affirms the elected official, who is also an actress… but mainly a migration crisis manager, these days.

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