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From Przemysl

From Przemysl

April 2, 2022 7:31 pmComments are Disabled

Writing to you from border with Ukraine. Thank you all for your donations so far. I’m finding that fundraising is proving a lot easier than sourcing the supplies needed. We gave out 130+ power banks that you all donated in about 3 minutes flat, and those were the only ones we could even find to buy today. Tourniquets, power banks, thermal underwear (it’s snowing right now in Poland at least), and most of housing in Poland and elsewhere in the EU are all in short supply. I hear 30k people are still coming across the border every day. Thousands of Ukrainians are going back, too. Hearing stories of landlords back in Odessa demanding rent, bosses calling people back to work, etc. It’s a fluid situation and lots of needs on both sides of the border. There is almost no official supply effort: everything is volunteer driven. The official train station staff doesn’t speak Russian or Ukrainian and don’t seem to know anything about where trains are going or how to find busses. This is a tiny border town and is completely overrun. Very few police keeping order. People helping friends and friends coordinating efforts from the inside.

It’s overwhelming being here. It feels like it’s a war zone in itself. We’re waiting now for the next train to come from Lviv— its already 7 hours late. When it arrives an army of volunteers from all over Europe is here to help people find housing and food and medical care. There’s a great team from the UK I’m connected with, a team of Russian language Masters students who are all here. One of them is putting me up tonight in their hotel so I will drive back to Warsaw tomorrow.

My companion today on the road, Jonathan, whom I met when I picked him up at 7am this morning, is a Montreal based Polish-Canadian documentarian who spent 10 years telling the story of Polish refugees from WWII and where they settled (see his doc here: I learned for instance that a sizable group of Poles ended up in Uzbekistan, Iran and Tanzania during WWII. He’s here now making a doc about the refugee crisis here and with Syrians on the border with Belarus, where his family is originally from. It feels like both of us are chasing our family history.

On the phone with a former work colleague in Lviv, he tells me his wife and children are safe in Poland. He wasn’t worried about their safety in Lviv, but he didn’t want his kids to see what was happening. “This isn’t just about Ukraine” he tells me, “this is the whole world. If you only knew…it’s so senseless.” He tells me the biggest needs right now are “dozens” of HD tablets of a certain model needed to work their artillery equipment, and vacuum medical systems for bullet wounds. My new friends in Kharkiv, also connected today, are running a civilian brigade and need humanitarian aid and medicine, especially insulin and injectable pain killers. Refugees crossing the border need power banks to charge their phones and contact their families and find lodging after multi day trips. Everyone needs something different. Trying to source thermal imaging drones right now for the defense effort. All the ones in Europe are sold out.

We’re meeting families who have been traveling for 3 weeks from the east of the country under heaviest bombardment. Volunteers are telling me this is the second wave of refugees, meaning the ones who have survived hell and managed to get out, as opposed to the first wave got out fast and early and had money and connections in Europe. The people in this wave all have stories to tell. One woman, her mother and daughter came from Cherniv where the mother’s cancer clinic was bombed. They needed to get to Germany to see a doctor. We put them on a train bound for Prague, a private train donated by a Czech businessman that runs supply trips to Lviv and takes refugees back. Another grandmother-mother-daughter set (there are a lot of these, while all the sons of Ukraine are at war) are a family of professors. The grandmother was teaching for 60 years before Covid. The mother is also a professor and speaks great English. I buy her coffee and speak to her as she’s waiting for hours to buy train tickets. She made her daughter take school books instead of her toys.

One of the few young men I met must have been 15, in from outside Chernobyl with his mother. He’s telling me stories of bombings every night, except the few days when Biden was in Poland (for appearances). His Russian “friends” are in denial that there’s a war on and call him a liar. This apparently isn’t uncommon. He and his mom are on their way to France to stay with a family that volunteered to host them in Normandy. Everyone has their own story. I have listened to a lot of crying tonight. It’s emotionally draining. Have to keep a calm composure.

I’m fielding donations and coordinating supply drop offs in between running errands for refugees who need help. Jonathan and I carried a woman’s bags a couple blocks to get her to her friend’s aunt who lives in town. Hundreds of refugees don’t have immediate next destinations and are sleeping in the train station. People need transport to the makeshift refugee center set up at the Tesco in town. They recently started offering outdoor showers to refugees. It’s below 40 degrees F outside. The government has done basically nothing.

The donations are helping tremendously as the most serious supply needs will need to be sourced from increasingly difficult (and expensive) options. Prices keep going up. It’s clear that my efforts for the next week are going to be focused on securing and transporting supplies to refugees on the ground, and getting supplies to our partners in Ukraine who need them. I will assemble the list of what I plan to bring back to the border tomorrow.

I thought I would be needed to take refugees to various ports of call in Poland but that doesn’t seem to be as necessary given all the organized transport efforts. Will find out tomorrow if my shuttle services are needed.

It’s 1:30am now and all of the trains have left for the night before they start again at 4am. Got some late night shawarma for dinner and crashing in a volunteer’s hotel room. Made many new friends today. Will send more updates tomorrow from Warsaw.

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