Berliner TageBlatt - Volunteers drop everything, cross borders, to help Ukraine refugees

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Volunteers drop everything, cross borders, to help Ukraine refugees
Volunteers drop everything, cross borders, to help Ukraine refugees / Foto: © AFP

Volunteers drop everything, cross borders, to help Ukraine refugees

For Simon Massey, a British freelance event coordinator, helping to manage the inflow of refugees from war-torn Ukraine to Poland is very similar to what he does at work, only on a larger scale.

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"There were a lot of people who were going to need some help, so I told my wife I was heading to Poland," the bulky 46-year-old said, surrounded by crowds at the Medyka border crossing.

"I jumped into the car and got down here on Saturday night. I didn't really have a plan other than to be here and help," Massey told AFP.

He is one of thousands of volunteers easily discernible for their yellow and orange vests at the crossing or at the packed railway station in nearby Przemysl.

They serve as interpreters, provide information, hand out food and drinks, carry suitcases, push wheelchairs or hold babies when their mothers run out of steam after the long and tiring journey.

Upon arrival, Massey was surprised to discover how dark it was at Medyka. So he called his wife and they crowdfunded 3,000 pounds to correct the situation.

"We went to the local hardware store and bought them out of lights and generators and yesterday we spent the day rigging up the camp so everyone has lights," he said.

After a few days of helping the refugees fleeing Russian aggression, Massey, who works around 16 hours a day at the border, has gotten used to seeing their suffering up close.

He said he had been horrified by many of the things he had seen "but by day three" previously shocking sights had become "just normal".

Over a million refugees have crossed into Poland since Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24. Much of the assistance being offered is at a grassroots level.

- 'They're important, we are not' -

"A wave of help and solidarity is sweeping through Poland at the moment. Poles... are welcoming guests into their homes," said European Parliament member Janina Ochojska, the head of a Polish NGO.

"It is NGOs and local authorities who are coordinating this enormous help and volunteers who are present wherever someone is in need," she told the European Parliament on Tuesday.

Polish volunteer Aleksandra Herbut can sympathise with the fleeing Ukrainians. She was forced to put her medical studies on hold in the western Ukrainian city of Ivano-Frankivsk.

"Ukraine is my second home so it's very difficult for me to see all these people who have to escape from their homes," she said from behind a table with sandwiches, bottled water and tea.

"I also left everything there, I was escaping too," adds Herbut, who spent the past week helping her African and Indian school friends cross the border.

At Medyka, many volunteers sleep in tents along the access road, while others including Welshman Nathan Jones crash in their vehicles.

"We sleep in the car, we wash our faces with the wipes and we're ready to go again. They're important, we're not," said the prison officer who took a week off work to come and serve meals at the border.

"We are right where they walk (into Poland) so we have thousands a day. From 11 o'clock till three in the morning," he added.

While Jones will have to go back to Wales soon, his friend Massey, who lit up the place, may stay longer.

"I told my wife initially I would come for two weeks, I'll re-evaluate that as we go," he said before turning his attention to the immediate future.

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S.Keller--BTB