Thursday September 28, 2023

Sleepy Polish city rallies to help Ukraine

April 03, 2022

Przemysl, Poland: The once sleepy city of Przemysl, on Poland’s border with Ukraine, has rallied since Russia invaded next door, welcoming 800,000 refugees and becoming "the world capital of volunteering", according to its mayor.

At its peak, "the migration wave reached up to around 55,000 refugees a day. That’s more or less the population of our entire city," Wojciech Bakun said in an interview with AFP.

"It’s through Przemysl that the largest number of refugees passed through. We became their door to Poland, to Europe," he said.

"But despite these large numbers, not a single person was left without a warm meal, a warm beverage, travel necessities" or a place to rest or sleep, he added.

"Our number one priority was to not leave anyone at the border, especially during the period of very low temperatures."

Immediately after Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24, the city put its contingency plans into action in order to respond as effectively as possible to the sudden flow of refugees.

But it is the volunteers above all -- city residents, NGOs, local police and firefighters -- who made it possible to help the new arrivals in the early days.

"Residents of Przemysl and nearby started cooking meals, manning the train station and the border around the clock so that everyone could feel safe. They welcomed the refugees into their homes," Bakun said.

Then, a couple of days into the invasion, volunteers from across Poland, followed by others from around the world, began to flock to the city.

"Przemysl became the world capital of volunteering," said Bakun.

"People from practically every European country, as well as the United States, Canada, Mexico, Brazil and Japan" along with humanitarian organisations from all over have come to Przemysl to help the refugees, he added.

Przemysl also saw "trucks filled to the brim with various items" arrive from elsewhere in Europe. Some of that humanitarian aid later made its way to Ukraine.