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Putting Refugees First


French Aid Workers in Poland

Everyone’s going to Poland. Not just from Ukraine, but Western Europe.

Sent by the Kremlin. Ukrainian refugees, Przemyśl.

Volunteer aid workers are making the reverse commute, to help Ukrainian refugees out.

It’s been an astonishing display of solidarity, that contrasts sharply with the country providing asylum. 

Few European Union member states have had a worse reputation for hostility to refugees than Poland.

It was only last Fall that Polish troops were pointing their guns at Arab families trying to cross the border from Belarus. 

That’s not to say that the same issues haven’t been at play this time. 

Africans living in Ukraine have been stopped from entering the country, and Ukrainian trans refugees have been prohibited, too.

But a big exception has been made for Ukrainian nationals, 2.3 million of which are reported to now be camped out in the country.

If it weren’t for the help of foreign aid workers like those interviewed by The Battleground’s Maxime Sattonnay, things could be a lot worse.

The volunteers donated their time and van to ferry goods to an NGO in Przemyśl and brought an elderly refugee home with them.

To say they are nice guys doesn’t even come close. 

They’re the ultimate refugees welcome advocates, shining examples of what Europeans do when they get on the right side of history. 

 

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Who are you?

Our names are Jerome and Mathieu. We are 28 and 32 years old and we are from France.

You delivered donations to Przemyśl, on the Polish border with Ukraine. What were they?

The goods were collected from relatives, an NGO called PLAST, and the Ukrainian Scouts of France. 

We transported hospital equipment, glucometers, syringes, gowns, crutches, walkers, wheelchairs, pediatric equipment, gynaecological kits, etc.

 

Everything for Ukraine. France, before departure.

After they were placed on pallets, the donations were transported by trailer to the Department of Health of Khmelnytsky City Council (Управління охорони здоров’я Хмельницької міської ради).

What did you do after you reached Przemyśl?

We helped with the logistics of a camp fifty kilometres from Lviv. 

It’s pretty impressive and moving because there are a lot of refugees. We heard crying and concern. 

On the other hand, there is a strong mobilisation from all over Europe.

For example, we had a free paella stand made by Spaniards and a Dutch fries stand.  (There was ) entertainment for children too.

Redistributing the Paella, Przemyśl.

But seeing rooms with hundreds of beds is something.

The Ukrainians I met are very nice. You can tell they are apprehensive about their loved ones back home.

We drove back to Paris with a Ukrainian lady, who is around 70 years old. She speaks French very well because she is a French-Ukrainian interpreter and tour guide! 

The journey went well. We arrived in Paris where she was welcomed by a friend.

During the trip, she told us the whole history of the USSR and Ukraine. She even promised me that we could go and visit Chernobyl with her.

She left Kyiv because it was becoming unbearable. A television tower was bombed in front of her building.

Relief supplies and recycling.

At the beginning of our journey, in the morning, during breakfast at the hotel, she cried because she blamed herself for having left Ukraine.

Later, she also got scared at a petrol station because we heard a plane fly by. Suffice to say she is traumatised.

Why are you giving this interview?

In all fairness, it bothers me a little to give an interview because we didn’t do anything heroic in itself.

I mean, some NGOs handle 100,000 times more parcels. We just brought a few things with our little camper van. Nothing extraordinary. 

We hope that maybe it can encourage other people to do it. This is what most people should do. 

But otherwise, it is not much. We do what we can at our scale.

What are the needs on the ground? 

From what I understand, there is a need for volunteers in Kraków because there are more refugees and fewer volunteers than in Przemyśl. 

Otherwise, the primary need is for medical equipment.

What happened to the lady that you drove to France?

She is with a friend in Paris where she will stay for a few days. She doesn’t want to take advantage of her friend’s kindness. 

The lady would like to go back home to Ukraine as soon as possible. If the war was to last much longer, she would have to start thinking of a plan B.

This could take a while.


Did you expect what you saw and experienced?

I was expecting chaos, but I must admit that it was very well organised. Apparently, it was not the case the week before our arrival, according to the NGO that asked us for news from the field. 

Before we arrived in Przemyśl, lots of NGOs had organised the camp. There even were food stalls, chips, Indian cuisine, etc. It was impressive.

Is there a message you’d like to convey?

This solidarity should really be used as an example. A lot of people should go and see how it’s going to raise their awareness. 

We should also learn from what volunteers do on the ground for future crises, whether it happens in Europe or elsewhere in the world.

Photographs courtesy of the interviewees. All rights reserved.