When the war broke out in Ukraine, the lives of millions of Ukrainians changed dramatically. Poland was the first country to lend a helping hand. At the same time, we are witnessing great examples of solidarity and cooperation between these two neighboring countries. It’s true that hard times bring out the best in people. Thanks to the strong ties established during the implementation of joint projects, Ukrainian and Polish institutions are now able to provide assistance to those who need it most. The infrastructure and equipment obtained through the projects are now being used in ways that could not have been foreseen before, but the purpose of serving the people’s needs remains unchanged. We want to share with you the stories of Ukrainian-Polish friendship and cooperation during the war.
The news about the war threw everyone in the town of Kremenets in the west of Ukraine into a panic. The team of “The Borderland of Equal Chances” (BEC) project which is located there was concerned not only about their own families but about their patients and wards - children with disabilities, which are the most vulnerable group of people in such situations. How to save them from cruel raider? Where to escape?
Fortunately, their partners from Poland – “Step by Step Association for Help to Disabled Children” - were there to help. The staff of association has been collecting children with their families from the Ukrainian-Polish border and helping them to find a long-term place to stay in Poland.
We were lucky to have such friends. Thanks to them we managed to transport 10 children from our area - Ternopil oblast - on the first days of war. But somehow people from other places learned about us and I started receiving calls from other places in Ukraine. I guess we have obtained over 100 such requests to help in getting across the border. - says Alla Andrushchuk, the Head of “Dawn of Hope” organization, beneficiary of the project.
As the war very quickly spread into other areas of Ukraine, the flow of internal refugees to the Western part of Ukraine was increasing. Kremenets became a temporary home for 13 thousand people from the regions covered by war. The “Dawn of Hope” Rehabilitation and Education Centre hosted people from Bucha, Irpin, Odessa, and Kharkiv oblasts. For children with disabilities, seeking a refuge in Europe was the safer option and BEC project partners were helping them to find a place to stay there. From the beginning of the war, they have managed to arrange the travel for over 100 families with children - the figure sounds almost beyond comprehension.
The true stories of these people are moving but sometimes terrifying. As, for instance, the story of Eugene, a courageous boy from Chernihiv, who has covered over 10 kilometers alone on a wheelchair to escape the war. Or a story of a family from Kherson, a city under Russian occupation. They lived in constant terror and wanted to escape at any price. The mother of two children, including a 16 years old girl with a severe mobility disability, contacted the organization and prayed for help. They had to wait for 50 days to get out of their city as it was extremely dangerous to go there. Finally, thanks to some brave people, they managed to escape. They are now in Lublin, where they got a very warm welcome.
For a person with disabilities a long journey abroad is connected with extreme effort of both physical and logistical nature. Sometimes a wheelchair doesn’t fit into the car or an extra help is needed to lift lying person. A male guardian under 60 years old is not allowed to cross the border with his ward unless special permit is issued. And even after crossing the border safely, it’s not easy to manage abroad. Language barrier, psychological trauma, need of qualified medical help, weak knowledge about country-specific regulations are the factors that can make a refugee feel isolated and even depressed. Under such circumstances, the help of other people, especially those who understand the needs of children with disabilities, is needed very much.
I’m really impressed by what the Polish people have been doing for Ukrainians. Maria Król, the director of “Step by Step” partner organization from Zamość has been working for 24 hours a day helping our refugees. Her commitment is incredible. – shares Alla.
Alla and her colleagues have no time to rest. They take families in need to the border on their bus or car, then return back to Kremenets with humanitarian aid such as food, hygienic items and other essentials. Next they have to cater to the people who are staying in their town. Previously, Alla’s most important goal was to finish the construction of the Centre and provide trainings to the team of care specialists. Now, because of the war, everything changed. Although the construction is in the process, the future is vague and it’s not easy to make any plans. Will it be completed? Sustained properly? Will there be people willing and able to work here?
The hope for better future is something that keeps her going. The thought that there are the people ready to help on both sides of the border makes her hope even stronger.
More about “The Borderland of Equal Chances” project funded by the European Union within the Poland-Ukraine-Belarus Programme can be found here.
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