By Agnieszka Wądołowska and Shannon Listopad
Virtually three million individuals – largely ladies and kids – have crossed from Ukraine into Poland since Russia’s invasion on 24 February; about two thirds at the moment stay within the nation.
We needed to offer them a voice.
4 ladies – refugees from Ukraine – agreed to share their tales with Notes from Poland. They spoke of their experiences fleeing the struggle, the challenges they confronted on the way in which, the ups and downs of their on a regular basis lives since they arrived in Poland, in addition to their hopes for what the long run will convey.
Oksana: “I noticed pictures of the ruins of a cinema I went to with my children not that way back”
Oksana fled together with her two youngsters from Kyiv and arrived in Poland through Slovakia. She is now staying together with her household in Warsaw. She is nervous about her older daughter as she was finding out in Ukraine and doesn’t know tips on how to proceed her training now.
Even earlier than the struggle began on 24 February, individuals had been already saying that one thing would occur, however we didn’t actually consider it. Russia goes to invade us? There might be tanks on the street? No, that appeared inconceivable!
However on that day, at 5 within the morning I heard some noise. I had no thought what it was – at first I assumed it was a gun salute. However there got here one other crash and I began to browse the web and realised the struggle had began.
On the petrol stations and ATMs and banks there have been lengthy queues; in retailers individuals had been shopping for out canned meals and water and a few had been already getting ready to go away. Everybody understood that it was not a joke, that it was actually occurring.
We’ve a suburban home and I took the children and went there, stocked up some issues to eat and drink and sealed the home windows and secured them with pillows, however we might nonetheless hear the airplane raids and shootings.
We slept in our garments as I had no thought if we’d have to flee. I learn on-line that we shouldn’t placed on the lights so we stayed at the hours of darkness. But it surely was nonetheless higher than within the metropolis, as there you wanted to go to the shelters on a regular basis. We spent just a few days like this.
Bread, meat, flour and sugar – all of them disappeared from the native store. You might purchase shrimps or another luxurious items however there have been no components to make pelmeni [dumplings]. My buddy works on the store so she referred to as me when a brand new supply got here and that’s how I obtained some stuff.
Within the streets, there have been already blockades constructed with sandbags and a few metallic supplies to forestall the tanks from getting by. Our forces additionally blew up the bridge that was the principle manner into Kyiv, and others had been blocked so individuals began saying that now no meals transports would undergo and if we didn’t get killed within the Russian air raids we might simply starve.
Then I realised that we actually needed to flee, however we heard that individuals had been ready for hours on the border to enter Poland and it was chilly.
I took my children and went to the railway station to see if we might get tickets for later. It was overcrowded and though a siren began going off, everybody ignored it. It was like I used to be in a trance, as if in a fog, I couldn’t actually make out what I ought to do and the place to go.
Then the information broke about one more raid on Kyiv and I simply felt panic. On the spur of the second, I obtained on the practice with my children and headed to the border with Slovakia, as I had a buddy there. We wrote to our kin in Poland and so they assured us we might have a spot to stick with them if we got here.
My children and I travelled on the baggage rack – the practice was so overcrowded. Nobody had tickets. It was clear that it was an evacuation, actually. It was a wierd practice stuffed with ladies and kids and the aged as they wouldn’t permit males to go away.
On the border everybody was so useful; they put us on a bus and volunteers gave us meals.
Krakow is a metropolis of 800,000 individuals. It has welcomed 150,000 refugees from Ukraine.
I expressed to Mayor Majchrowski our respect for his metropolis’s extraordinary generosity.
We’ll preserve serving to Krakow in each doable manner and to advocate for extra worldwide assist for Poland. pic.twitter.com/d8ypknRrAi
— Filippo Grandi (@FilippoGrandi) March 29, 2022
For the primary few nights, my buddy’s son was crying and shouting in his sleep, whereas I simply couldn’t sleep in any respect. I obtained some capsules to calm me down, as I’m ready nervously for information from my husband each day. Additionally my mother and father and my sister are nonetheless in Ukraine. It’s very arduous for me now, once I watch the information and take into consideration them. Just lately I noticed pictures of the ruins of a cinema I went to with my children not that way back. It’s actually inconceivable to think about what struggle is like until you see it with your individual eyes.
I’d even prefer to go dwelling proper now if I might; I’m in contact with some pals who’re additionally in Poland now and so they’re all saying that as quickly because it’s over, we’ll go dwelling, even when we’ve got to go on foot.
Now we’re staying with my household in Warsaw. They had been so hospitable to allow us to keep of their condominium. I actually really feel at dwelling right here. We’re so fortunate that we’ve got them, as those that got here right here and haven’t any kin or pals should face many extra difficulties.
My household additionally helped me get by all of the formalities – my son, who’s eight years previous, is already going to high school. He’s doing high quality, studying to write down Polish letters. He joined a Polish-speaking class although he doesn’t know the language, however he discovered himself an interpreter – a woman from his class speaks Russian and explains all the pieces to him, I feel she likes him. I’m so happy that he’s actually adapting so rapidly.
Right now I obtained the PESEL [Polish national ID] quantity for me and my children; it took me the entire day – I used to be on the authorities workplace in Mokotów at 7.30 a.m. and got here dwelling solely within the late afternoon. However everybody was very useful there; there have been interpreters and volunteers to assist to direct me to the fitting locations and help with the kinds. I’ve additionally already utilized for 500 plus [child benefits].
I joined an internet group on Instagram for Ukrainian moms in Poland and there we trade information about free actions for teenagers. Simply the opposite day we went to Wilanów [Palace in Warsaw]; they guided us across the palace without spending a dime, and it was good to neglect in regards to the struggle for a second.
I’m simply nervous about my older daughter – she was finding out in Ukraine and it’s not clear how she will be able to proceed now. I’d additionally love to begin a job so I can assist us right here.
It’s arduous to consider, however I had even forgotten to take some cash with me. However then when a bomb is coming, you’re not interested by your purse, however about your children’ lives. And for a while I couldn’t withdraw hryvnia because the trade fee was actually dangerous.
Nonetheless, the largest problem is that we simply don’t know what to anticipate. Is it only a day or two and the peace will come and we will go dwelling? Or will we’ve got to remain right here for months? We simply don’t know.
Zhenya: “I hope that the struggle will finish by the summer time and we are able to go dwelling”
Zhenya fled from a city in northern Ukraine and is now dwelling together with her mom and siblings in Łódź. She attends a preparatory class at a state college. She was knowledgeable that if she stays until September in Poland she might be put into the suitable grade, however she would favor to return dwelling.
“We left as quickly because the struggle began – I’m from just a little city, so we didn’t face bombing like Kyiv however I do know the state of affairs may be very troublesome there now.
I got here to Poland with my mom, sister and brother. Along with our pals, we rented a small bus and my mom drove it for 5 – 6 hours till we got here to the border with Poland. Then Polish volunteers helped us; the Poles had been so candy to us and helped us all the way in which. They provided us transportation and we had been moved to completely different locations.
Within the first lodge, the place we spent only one evening, we shared a room with lots of people. I don’t know precisely the place it was; it’s some sort of constructing fully illuminated with the flag of Ukraine. However then we had been moved to a unique one; this one was in a forest and we obtained a room there only for my household. We might depart our rooms however there wasn’t wherever we might go actually.
Then we had been provided a flat that we might keep in by the town of Łódź and that’s the place we are actually. Our buddy and his father, whom we met in Poland, helped us with the condominium. Numerous my pals left and they’re all in Poland, however in different cities. I’m nonetheless in contact with them and we speak so much on the cellphone and I hope they’ll go to me.
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Now I’m going to high school in Łódź. It wasn’t arduous to get me signed up for varsity, I assume we got here on the proper time as they had been simply organising the lessons – one for youngsters of my age, so 14 and 15-year-olds, and one other for these aged 16 and 17.
In my class there are solely different Ukrainian youngsters; we spend more often than not studying Polish. It’s sort of arduous because it’s a completely new language for me. My household speaks Russian at dwelling and I spoke Ukrainian in school again in Ukraine.
It’s good that I can communicate to my classmates now. Some academics communicate English or Russian and that’s the way in which we talk. The youngsters, like me, who communicate English, translate for individuals who don’t. Again in Ukraine, I had English in school and took some further programs, in order that helps me to speak now. However more often than not they communicate Polish to us as they need us to study.
There are 20 Ukrainian youngsters in my class. It’s simpler for us this fashion – to go to high school with individuals who don’t communicate my language could be very arduous. However they don’t seem to be from my city; they got here from a variety of locations in Ukraine.
My mum is searching for a job to assist us, however many Ukrainians are already working in Poland so it’s arduous to discover a place. In many roles it’s good to communicate Polish, however she doesn’t.
I hope that the struggle will finish by the summer time and we are able to go dwelling.
Margo: “I had tears in my eyes once I noticed all this hospitality”
Margo fled from Kyiv and is now dwelling with household in Warsaw.
My story of fleeing the struggle began already a very long time in the past – eight years to be precise. I used to stay in Luhansk, and when the battle began there [in 2014] I emigrated to Kyiv. You possibly can say I’ve some expertise in migrating. The primary time I needed to flee the struggle, I didn’t even consider taking any paperwork or diplomas with me. I simply took my baby, who was three years previous again then. I’ve learnt how arduous it’s to stay when you don’t have anything.
Now, only a few days after the Russian invasion, when the state of affairs began to look harmful, when life in Kyiv couldn’t go on usually any extra, I knew I wanted to pack a suitcase and have all of the very important stuff inside. I realised that if I didn’t depart now, I may not be capable of depart the town in any respect.
We gathered a small group together with my daughter, my sister, and my nephew; I glided by automotive to the railway station; we even took a canine with us. It was already arduous simply to get there. We selected a practice that was going on to the Polish border, the place we wanted to attend just a few hours until we might cross.
I actually appreciated all the assistance we obtained on the border, the place individuals gave us meals, juice, and water; they put us in a single automotive, then in one other one and introduced us to the capital metropolis. I actually had tears in my eyes once I noticed all that hospitality.
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As soon as we obtained to one of many reception factors in Warsaw, I acquired some packages with primary merchandise that I might take with me. My pals even gave me a elevate so we might pack extra issues into the automotive. At this early stage, the assist was very well organised.
To be trustworthy, I used to be in a very good state of affairs as I’ve pals right here in Warsaw who might host me and my household; they simply gave us their flat for our use. However nonetheless, my life appears to be suspended and I don’t know tips on how to organise my work and on a regular basis actions right here.
Fortunately my nephew, who’s 5, obtained into Polish preschool. Nonetheless, my daughter is already 10 and he or she hasn’t began college, as she doesn’t communicate Polish in any respect and for her becoming a member of a Polish-speaking class could be one more emotional burden.
So long as I haven’t determined whether or not we are going to keep in Poland long-term, I don’t see the purpose of sending her to high school. In fact, if we keep until September, I’ll enrol her and he or she must attend lessons. However I hope if the state of affairs quietens down a bit, she’s going to be capable of be a part of on-line lessons from Ukraine.
My largest problem in Poland is that I don’t communicate the language, I don’t perceive when individuals are speaking to me right here. It’s actually demanding while you don’t know the place it’s good to go or which kind to fill in. I haven’t acquired any monetary assist from the federal government as I haven’t utilized for any, however my sister has registered, obtained her PESEL, and is getting state cash.
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For me it was additionally fairly troublesome to seek out details about assist programmes and assist that’s obtainable each right here in Poland and that could possibly be despatched to Ukraine. I arrange a fundraiser on Instagram with the intention of serving to organisations to care for animals in Kyiv, as many had been left behind.
After I began searching for such NGOs, I couldn’t discover something at first. I’m younger and I can look on social media and Telegram, however I assume some individuals who wish to assist additionally might need issues with discovering information or tips on how to get in contact with different refugees who’re in Poland.
Naturally, I would love the battle to finish as quickly as doable, however I don’t consider I can go dwelling. I’m a yoga instructor and my inside steadiness is essential to me, whereas the present state of affairs is emotionally very troublesome and strenuous. Even when I wish to go dwelling, I think about will probably be a very long time until it’s actually protected to return.
Since my arrival in Poland, I went for a while to go to my pals in Austria to test what alternatives there could possibly be for us there. Though I don’t communicate German and I didn’t understand how I might get long-term lodging and state assist, I actually appreciated it there.
In the meanwhile, we’re staying in Poland, hoping to get an American vacationer visa. I have to discover a place the place I can keep long-term as there isn’t any manner of telling how lengthy this battle in Ukraine will final.
I can’t clarify it – possibly it’s one thing emotional – however I can’t discover my place right here. I don’t really feel good right here in Poland and I don’t suppose I’ll keep right here lengthy. I’ve pals in numerous components of Europe – in Portugal or Sweden. They’re all telling me I can come and stick with them. I simply don’t know what to do subsequent.
Svetlana: “God forbid anybody else has to undergo this”
Svetlana fled from Western Ukraine together with her two youngsters and her sister’s youngsters. The kids go to high school in Warsaw, whereas she hopes to be a instructor’s assistant and assist different Ukrainian youngsters assimilate into the classroom.
On 24 February, we heard three loud explosions. And I obtained very scared, not a lot for myself, however for my small baby. I went to my mom’s, the place my sister’s children had been as properly, since my sister was working in Poland at the moment.
“Sveta, you must go,” my mum advised me. I needed my husband to return with us, however he couldn’t; he needed to remain and combat for our nation. My older son, who’s 18 years previous, additionally couldn’t be a part of us – he’s within the territorial defence drive.
We didn’t stay very removed from the border, so my husband drove all of us there after which we took a bus. We ended up ready in it for 12 hours. There was nowhere to go. The youngsters had been simply mendacity on the ground – it was very troublesome.
Straight away after we crossed the border, we met my sister, thank God. Some Poles lent her a automotive and he or she picked us up. The journey lasted for 12 hours, and even 14, I don’t even bear in mind anymore.
And now we’re in Warsaw. We didn’t have a spot to go, as a result of my sister solely has a studio condominium that’s simply 15 sq. meters. didn’t know what to do – I used to be drained, the children had been drained. We discovered a hostel and so they helped us and my sister paid. I owe her a giant thanks.
The Polish authorities is coordinating with Polish NGOs to offer meals, medical care and shelter to these escaping from Ukraine. 🫂
— Embassy of Poland U.S. (@PolishEmbassyUS) April 8, 2022
For every week and a half we lived within the hostel till we discovered some beneficiant individuals who gave us a spot to remain – not a giant one, however I’m so grateful for what they’ve given us.
Now I’m dwelling there with 4 children – two of my sister’s children and two of mine. Cooking, cleansing, and taking them to high school. We will stay right here without spending a dime for a month, possibly two, however after that we don’t have wherever to go and I don’t know what to do subsequent. I don’t have any cash. It’s my sister that’s shopping for all the pieces for us, together with groceries.
There have been completely no issues with the college. I’m so grateful for the Poles, they’re nice. Merely superior! Massive thanks to all of them. I simply needed to give them my cellphone quantity and my identification paperwork; all the pieces was free. The youngsters are studying and I hope they’ll communicate Polish quickly. It’s excellent that they’re not simply sitting at dwelling.
Nonetheless it’s a bit troublesome for the children I assume, however the little ones aren’t saying something. They’re comfortable – my sister retains shopping for them sweets! To be trustworthy, they don’t even need to go dwelling, I preserve telling them we’ve got to return.
For my older son, the 16-year-old, it’s very arduous as he was already within the eleventh grade, so his pals are again there, all the pieces he is aware of is again there in Ukraine, and in the meanwhile there may be nothing right here for him.
There have been no issues for us bureaucratically both. The queue for the PESEL was actually lengthy, but it surely wasn’t an issue, as a result of I had the time and once I went I had all the pieces I wanted with me. I additionally signed up for monetary assist, however I haven’t acquired something but. It’s unlucky, but it surely’s OK.
Since I’ve arrived in Poland, I didn’t obtain assist from the federal government, however I did get assist from volunteers. Volunteers from the Crimson Cross gave us some meals. The second time we went to get some meals, although, there was virtually nothing there for them to offer. In addition they gave us some pillows and blankets donated by individuals.
I arrived in a very previous coat and previous sneakers, simply because it was what I used to be carrying once I left. We had only a small backpack of issues. I primarily arrived empty-handed and barefoot.
I’m acquainted with the Polish language. I perceive all the pieces and I may even communicate just a little bit. I used to be as soon as right here to earn some cash through the summer time, close to the ocean.
I’m sure I can discover work in Warsaw. I need to be a instructor’s assistant and assist the Ukrainian children assimilate within the classroom. I’ve already been to the college and talked to them about it. I actually need to assist – at the same time as a volunteer if I’ve to. I don’t simply need to sit round. I’m not used to doing that. The varsity agreed to take me on, however they’ll’t simply make use of me – there may be some organisation that’s serving to out with that already. We’re working it out.
To be trustworthy, although, I’d have even gone dwelling yesterday if I might, however my husband advised me we have to wait. There’s plenty of preventing, he stated. There are rockets in all places – it’s actually scary. So he advised me to remain put and so I’m. For now I can’t return, as a result of I concern for the youngsters. I don’t care a lot about myself.
The very last thing I’d like so as to add is properly needs for everybody, a peaceable world, in order that nobody else must cope with this form of factor. I want that to everybody that’s studying this text. By no means – I by no means needed to expertise this both. It’s a nightmare.
God forbid that anyone has to listen to the sounds of explosions. I solely heard them for at some point and nonetheless they’re terrifying me. There are lots of people which are nonetheless there that couldn’t come right here and I’m very nervous about them. God forbid anybody else has to undergo this.
Interviews carried out and translated from Russian by Agnieszka Wądołowska and Shannon Listopad; language assist offered by Greg Listopad.
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Fundamental picture credit score: Margo
Agnieszka Wądołowska is deputy editor of Notes from Poland. She has beforehand labored for Gazeta.pl and Tokfm.pl and contributed to Gazeta Wyborcza, Wysokie Obcasy, Duży Format, Midrasz and Kultura Liberalna