Sunday, April 2

Pain and uncertainty on the ship that welcomes Ukrainian refugees on the Polish border

It had been a month since Tatiana Kovalenko’s son had been insisting at home that the situation in Ukraine was getting complicated, that it was a good idea to leave the country, or at least from Kiev. But Tatiana didn’t take it seriously. The same day of the Russian invasion, last Thursday, her sister Elena de Ella called her from home, alarmed by noises that seemed to be from fighter planes. “Don’t worry, go to sleep,” she replied, still sleepy.

Photos — Poland shelters refugees fleeing Ukraine

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Three days later, in a shopping center converted into temporary accommodation for refugees after the passage of Korczowa, on the Polish-Ukrainian border, Tatiana still hasn’t shaken off her disbelief. “But I lived in Moscow,” she recalls, unable to understand how the relationship between two countries so close to each other ended in a military invasion.

The precarious situation of Tatiana’s family allowed them to cross the border in a relatively short time, given the disbandment. Her mother, Valentina, who now prods her from behind as she speaks so she doesn’t say negative things about Ukraine, is in a wheelchair, and this allowed them to move up in her queue. “My mother is my safe conduct,” she jokes herself.

Before, however, they had had to walk 20 kilometers because the taxi in which they arrived from Kiev (which cost them 650 euros, in exchange) could not overtake the waiting snake of cars. In addition, Elena had an intervention pending for the cancer that she suffers from. “Maybe they can operate on it in Germany,” she speculates. She then reflects on the “hazards of life”, for her in reference to the fact that this flight experience has helped her to better understand her husband, a Turkish refugee. Her 27-year-old son has stayed behind to fight.

Hundreds of thousands of people continue to flee Ukraine in search of safety. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) estimates that half a million people have fled to neighboring countries since February 24. A total of 281,000 have crossed into Poland, the country with the most arrivals so far, according to UNHCR.

“We don’t know what’s going on”

In this wholesale warehouse, in which there has not yet been time to remove some of the bathtubs and bathroom tiles on display, the beds are piling up. There are hundreds of refugees, in a growing swarm. Some doze, others wander confused. Soldiers and volunteers distribute soup and provisions in a stall that could have been a commercial premises, while at the entrance there are buses and private individuals who offer to transport the newcomers to other parts of the country, even further afield.

There are also many children who need to be kept entertained. Anna Sus, 35, helps Jana with her three little ones. Because of her youthful appearance, Jana could be a sister of Anna, even her daughter, but she is the second wife of her ex-husband. Anna lets out a laugh as she explains the family situation. She says that even though they didn’t get along that well, this is a case of force majeure.

Immediately afterwards she remains speechless, her face dislodges, she swallows hard, tries to stop the tears from flowing out. She manages to compose herself. She remembers her father and her brother, who have stayed in the Ukraine. “We don’t know what’s going on, but what’s on TV is terrible.”

He assures that the immediate future involves finding a job. She was engaged in financial consulting. “Maybe in Warsaw,” she says without much conviction.

“We’re tired”

In these first days after the invasion, the Poles seem to be turning to help the Ukrainians. Full of energy, Magda Eroblewska walks through the building carrying thermoses. She comes from Kielce, 250 kilometers away. “I take as many as I can and need, as if we have to put seven in the car,” she says. “Do you want hot wine? It’s cold in Poland,” she says.

She is willing to do, she says, “whatever it takes” to help. She believes that Putin “is crazy” and trusts that “someone will end this situation, because it is pathological.”

Other refugees also think of some of the most vulnerable, such as the family made up of Aliya, 33, Oleg, 29, and little Daniel, just two. “I am afraid that governments are forgetting about people with medical needs. Diabetics cannot go a day without insulin, how will they survive?” he asks.

“The people on the front lines are very brave. We pray for them and their families, but there are all those other people who need help. If they don’t receive it, there may be more victims than those caused by the war itself,” he says, barely recovered from two days of walking to cover 25 kilometers, loaded with luggage, the child and the cart.

“We were going to move to Lviv before all this started. In one day, everything fell apart,” she laments. “We didn’t think something like this could happen. I prefer not to think too much about it. I don’t know what to say, I try to keep a cool head, although I feel many emotions. We’re tired”.