Heading for the border

Heading for the border

I have, like much of the rest of the world, been watching the Russian invasion of Ukraine with horror and disbelief. I still can’t quite believe what is happening. The invasion of a soveriegn European nation, and the wholesale destruction of villages, cities and infrastructure, Thousands are dead, and millions are fleeing, quite literally, for their lives.

I visited Ukraine in October last year, and really enjoyed exploring the country. It is hard to imagine some the places I visited so recently are now at risk of annihilation. I wonder what has happened to the people I met.

Three weeks ago I started contacting aid agencies working with Ukrainian refugees to see if I could volunteer. Most did not reply, which is not surprising seeing as they were dealing with an evolving catastrophe. The couple of NGOs that did reply told me they did not need or take volunteers. I understand this too, as having to coordinate volunteers takes a lot of time and effort, plus there are other issues such as insurance and perhaps background checks too.

As the weeks passed and the scant replies dried up, I decided to make my way to Poland, and just turn up in areas where refugees were arriving and being processed. I figured that there would be smaller community-based aid groups and locals who may need help. If I arrrived and there was nothing I could do, I would just leave again.

I flew from Sarajevo to Zagreb, Croatia, then on to Warsaw. When I reached Poland the presence of military personnel increased; there were soldiers getting off planes, waiting in the terminal, and on duty in the arrrivals hall, fully armed and equipped. A group of journalists with PRESS printed on their utility vests sat in a cafe with their camera gear. I overheard more people speaking in English than I’ve heard in over a year.

My flight to the regional city of Rzeszow, the closest commercial airport to the Polish/Ukrainian border, was delayed by 45 minutes due to the amount of baggage that needed loading. I assumed it belonged to the journalists on board, and the plain-clothes blokes who were clearly military.

We arrived after dark, and I had a tense taxi drive to my hotel after I asked the driver if he could use the meter. He got angry, telling me that it was a professional service, the meter would be used and a receipt issued. I told him I was pleased to hear it, and that I had only asked because nearly all cab drivers try to rip me off seemingly as a matter of principle.

My loose plan was to turn up at the Rzeszow Railway Station and see if I could help. I had read that the station was a hub for newly-arrived refugees, and that aid agencies were stretched trying to cope with the numbers. However shortly after arriving in the town I got a reply from a small aid outfit operating on the Ukraine border, 64km from Rzeszow. Their messsage said they could use the help, and asked how soon I could get there.

Next morning I walked from my hotel to the city’s main bus terminal, and booked a ticket to Przemysl for the following day. From there it’s a 14km cab ride to Medyka, a small town on the border with Ukraine. I spent the rest of the day buying a few essentials, and getting myself organised.

Up until now I have been posting on my website chronologically, albeit several months in arrears. I’m going to put this on hold for the time being, and if I have the chance, write a little about how things are going on the border. This is certainly not to tell you what a saint I am for volunteering, but rather because I know some of you will be following the events in Ukraine, and may find a first-hand account of what is happening interesting.

I’m not really sure what to expect when I arrive at the border. But I do know that everyone will be hoping that the international condemnation of Russia’s invasion, the resilience of the defenders, and the strength of human decency and compassion will stop the catastrophe that is destroying Ukraine.

4 thoughts on “Heading for the border

    1. The support Ukraine is receiving from nearly the entire world is an amazing thing. Thankyou Kat I’ll look after myself (though off crook at the moment so an inauspicious start…)

  1. Good on ya Jimma! We’re all horrified with what’s going on there and feel pretty helpless, but there you are, pouring cups of tea, handing out hot mugs of soup and plenty more! I take my hat off to you.

    1. Thankfully nearly the whole world is horrified by what is happening to Ukraine, and the support here at the border for those fleeing the Russian invasion is steadfast. Keep the conversation going over there in Aus Hodgey

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