As the attacks on Ukraine’s energy infrastructure continue and winter sets in, Ukrainian refugees are crossing the Polish border once again. CARE-supported accommodation centres remain full, while other centres have closed down, forcing some refugees to have to sleep on frigid train platforms without knowing what will happen next.
At the beginning of the war, hundreds of thousands of Ukrainian refugees came through the train station in Przemyśl, a small historic city near the Ukrainian border. Ukrainian House, a cultural centre in the centre of town, quickly responded, turning their facility into a temporary accommodation centre by rolling bunks into their theatre, constructing new bathrooms, and converting their meetings rooms into an impromptu Ukrainian consulate.
Igor Horków, the Chairman of Ukrainian House, says:
Two or three months ago from 200 to 300 people would come to Przemyśl on a train. Now, there are from five to six hundred people coming on one train, and there are several trains coming from Kyiv, Odessa, and Zaporizhya every day.”
A temporary playroom set up at Ukrainian House. Photo from CARE Ukraine.
“Two or three months ago, the accommodation centre was full after the trains for the day arrived, by 8 or 9 pm.” Igor explains. “Now the centre is completely full by noon. After the first train, it is full.
“In the last few days there were from 100 to 200 people sleeping at the train station either waiting for the next train or waiting till the place in accommodation centre is free.”
Katarzyna Komar-Macyńska, or Kasia, the manager at Ukrainian House recalls the first days of the war:
“The train was supposed to have several hundred of passengers but instead had thousands. We had trains from Kyiv and Odessa; a trip that usually it took 6 or so hours, sometimes took 20-30 hours. Those were absolutely not humane conditions, people weren’t able to use toilet during their journey. They were traveling in complete darkness because of the fear of shelling.”
Kasia, the staff and volunteers, mostly Ukrainian themselves, have been working since the war began to help refugees with problems ranging from severe illness to immigration, housing and employment issues. Together with CARE and Polish Humanitarian Action, Ukrainian House provides multipurpose financial assistance in the form of cash cards for refugees. They also provide meals, transportation and housing assistance, psychosocial assistance, language courses and other services.
To date, over 7.5 million refugees have crossed the border into Poland, with 1.4 million registered for protection in Poland, the most of any nation in Europe. The team at Ukrainian House often assisted refugees to find longer-term accommodation options in Poland, or elsewhere.
As the weather gets colder, Kasia is becoming more and more anxious.
“We realise that we are seeing a second wave of refugees coming,” she says. “And we have fears that when Ukraine has a lack of gas and lack of heating and it starts getting colder. And prices on food products are going up. There will be a lack of food if we have new big wave of refugees.”
Kasia, Igor, and the rest of the team are faced with difficult new problems daily, but still remain resilient and focused. CARE is continuing to help Ukrainian House prepare for the Ukrainians who are being forced to leave their homes behind this winter and arrive in Przemyśl.