Life at ‘The Passage’ where Ukrainian refugees receive food, drink and a smile
- Credit: Dave Powles
EDP editor David Powles is part of a group in Poland assisting Ukrainian refugees fleeing the war in their homeland. Today he reports back from the crossing point in the village of Medyka.
We have arrived in Medyka, on the Ukrainian and Poland border, and are walking along what is known as ‘The Passage’.
This is where, every day, thousands of Ukrainians of all ages, but mainly women and children, arrive to cross the border on foot in search of refuge from the Russian army.
To describe the scene is not easy.
In many ways The Passage is reminiscent of the walkways you get at British music festivals.
As you enter there is even a piano set up in front of a row of tents, where a talented pianist is playing the most beautiful piece.
But that isn’t a stage and those aren’t the tents of happy festival-goers.
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It’s where some of the volunteers, drawn from all over the world, are living as they try to do their bit to help ease the desperate plight of those fleeing Ukraine.
And instead of stalls selling food, wacky clothes and more, here they offer free food and drink, support, advice and a welcoming smile.
Our group is made up of myself, Adam Hale-Sutton, from Little Melton, Richard Knight and Vita, a Ukrainian mum who has agreed to act as a translator while she works out her own next move.
I’m not sure what I expected as we reach the entrance point from Ukraine, but it is simply a gate in the middle of a fence. Ukrainian people walk through in large numbers looking tired and emotionally drained.
The children are offered Kinder Eggs, which draw an immediate smile in the way only chocolate can.
Just 50 yards from the entrance is the temporary base of the Siobhan Trust, a Scottish charity which pitched up here several weeks ago and is offering 24-hour hot food, drink and more to refugees and volunteers.
It is being run by Harry Scrymgeour, who happens to be a former UEA student and the son of the late Countess Siobhan Dundee, whom the charity is named after.
He said: “We were one of the first charities here and it’s been an amazing snowball effect since. We have volunteers now from all over, not just the United Kingdom. All of them just wanted to come out here and see what they can do to help.”
He tells me how, in the last few days, a growing number of people have been heading back into Ukraine, rather than the other way.
“They simply miss their home too much,” he explains.
We are introduced to Soso, a chef from Tblisi in Georgia who has a Ukrainian wife back at home and travelled to Medyka with the intention of crossing the border into Ukraine.
Harry says: “He wants to go and fight. We’ve told him he’d be much better off staying here and cooking for us and so that’s what he’s doing.”
He shares with us an amazing vegetable soup, which provides a much-needed lift as we turn our attentions to seeing who needs help.
This is where having Vita on hand is so essential. She is able to talk to the Ukrainians, explain who we are and appease any fears they may have.
Without her the language barrier would surely prove insurmountable. Crossing that bridge when refugees arrive in the UK without much English will be a huge challenge.
A mum and her 16-year-old son need help and are taken to the mini-bus before there is even time to hear their story. That can wait until tomorrow. They are later joined by a family-of-three, including a happy three-year-old boy called Jan, mum and grandmother.
Soon heavy rain arrives and the scene is very different along ‘The Passage’, as people do their best to find shelter.
There is talk that on the other side of the border people still face big delays crossing into Poland. The weather is as bad there and many are simply having to wait and ride it out.
We load up the vehicles, head back to Krakow with our two families and get them into the warmth and comfort of a hotel room. What happens next can wait for now.
- Tomorrow: They’re safe – but what next for the Ukrainian refugees?