Morning Chronicle - 'Unimaginable tragedy': Ukrainians find refuge in Poland

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'Unimaginable tragedy': Ukrainians find refuge in Poland
'Unimaginable tragedy': Ukrainians find refuge in Poland

'Unimaginable tragedy': Ukrainians find refuge in Poland

Moved to tears by the plight of the Ukrainian people, Polish volunteer Katarzyna Jasinska was offering a warm children's jacket to a refugee who had just crossed into Poland's eastern border village of Medyka.

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"Some have arrived without anything at all or with just a handbag. As they fled, they didn't have time to bring a thing," said the veterinary technician who left her home in Tychy, southern Poland to offer a helping hand.

"Some are wounded. They simply need everything. It's an unimaginable tragedy," the 25-year-old told AFP, surrounded by dozens of plastic bags packed with clothes for the new arrivals.

Jasinska is one of thousands of volunteers -- Poles as well as Ukrainians living in Poland -- who have dropped everything to help the refugees since Russia invaded Ukraine on Thursday.

By midday Sunday, nearly 200,000 people had already crossed into Poland from Ukraine, according to Polish border guards, with the number on the rise with every hour.

The UN's refugee agency says some 368,000 people have fled Ukraine in total so far.

At Medyka, the queue of arrivals waiting to be processed was seemingly endless. Mostly made up of women and children, they stepped into Poland after dozens of hours in line in the cold.

"They're in need of warm jackets, hats, gloves, but also children's clothes," Jasinska said after a night of sub-zero weather.

- 'Outpouring of solidarity' -

One Ukrainian from the northern city of Chernihiv, 45-year-old Igor, had just made a request for two parkas for his daughters, aged four and eight, who were still stuck across the border.

"They've already been waiting for 20 hours along with my wife to cross over into Poland," said the construction worker who has been living in Warsaw for four years.

"It's extraordinary what the Poles are doing. It warms our hearts. We weren't expecting such an outpouring of solidarity. We're offered food, tea, clothing, transport -- all free," he told AFP.

Once they have made it across the border, the refugees are met by relatives or friends living in Poland -- home to an estimated 1.5 million Ukrainians -- or the volunteers.

All along the pathway from the border crossing, young people distribute free drinks and food, clothing, diapers and even strollers.

A phone operator has set up a tent where Ukrainians can charge their mobile phones and get free SIM cards just by flashing their Ukrainian passport.

They can also get free train tickets nationwide and access public transport in the capital Warsaw and several other cities.

- 'Astounding' -

All over Poland, people have been contributing money and essential supplies like medicine and clothing to the cause.

Many are offering the refugees accommodation, meals, work or a free lift.

"Wroclaw, 4 spots", reads a simple cardboard sign held up by one volunteer offering refugees a ride to the southwestern city located more than 500 kilometres (310 miles) from Medyka.

"This morning, I got in the car, filled it up with petrol, then drove over here," said Michal Swieczkowski, a 40-year-old economist.

"I didn't really think about it. It was just a gut reaction, to help these people," he told AFP.

Dozens of others like him have been offering to drive refugees to all parts of Poland, but also to Estonia, Germany, Sweden and elsewhere.

Nearby, a red fire truck is waiting to take new arrivals to a reception centre set up at a train station in the city of Przemysl, where the refugees can receive medical care, have a meal, or lie down to rest.

"If they have family in Poland or know where they want to go, we help them get there. The others, we direct to other centres throughout the country for further help," said Filip, an 18-year-old Pole of Ukrainian descent.

"People have mobilised to an astounding degree. You can see that everyone wants to help the refugees," he told AFP.