There should never be a need to describe the experience of fleeing from violence – and yet, refugee families from Ukraine are doing just that.
‘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,’ Ganna adds. ‘We hope to see them again.’
Since the start of the escalation of hostilities on 24 February 2022, around two million people have fled from Ukraine into neighbouring countries – but the number is growing so quickly that by the time you read this, it may already be out of date.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 and snowy journeys in sub-zero temperatures, and 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.
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. Our aim is to understand the situation both 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, our 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 check points. 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, he adds, it felt personal.
‘I have a seven-month-old baby,’ Bartosz says. ‘The first day when 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 doing through. It made me want to help however 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 continues, 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.
Our next steps
Right now, our team in Poland is assessing needs and deciding how to support families in a way that meets their needs and supports their dignity, wellbeing, and mental health. To do that, we are coordinating closely with local actors, volunteer networks, and other humanitarian organisations to ensure that support is delivered efficiently and reaches the greatest number of people possible.
As we get our response in Poland off the ground, we are very aware that humanitarian needs inside Ukraine are growing. We are working on getting the necessary permissions and access to begin providing support inside Ukraine as soon as possible.
This conflict is leading to a humanitarian catastrophe. It is clear both in the ever-increasing humanitarian needs and in the stories that we hear from those who have safely made it out of Ukraine. Acting now allows us to provide families like Ganna’s and Kateryna’s with the support they need to help recover from their ordeal, and find hope in the days to come.
We do not have a second to lose.
Act now. Send help to families affected by the conflict in Ukraine today.
All figures provided by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.
This content was produced with resources gathered by Medair field and headquarters staff. The views expressed herein are those solely of Medair and should not be taken, in any way, to reflect the official opinion of any other organisation.