Prawa autorskie: Fot. Agnieszka JędrzejczykFot. Agnieszka Jędrz...

Publikujemy angielskie tłumaczenie tekstu Agnieszki Jędrzejczyk: „Dwie Polski Dominiki Przychodzeń. Jak aktywistka nękana przez państwo PiS pomaga uchodźcom", opublikowanego w listopadzie 2022 r.


Powoli wyczerpują się zasoby dobrej woli i możliwości pomocy ukraińskim rodzinom, które ratując się przed rosyjską agresją, próbują w Polsce mieszkać, pracować i uczyć się. Państwo nie wspiera już Polek i Polaków, którzy przyjmują uchodźców. Czas na nowo ułożyć relacje i szukać rozwiązań. Chcemy w OKO.press opisywać historie gości z Ukrainy, usłyszeć je od was. Czekamy też na listy polskich pracodawców, gospodarzy, wszystkich osób, które chcą napisać komentarz lub zgłosić pomysł. Piszcie na adres [email protected].


Поволі вичерпуються ресурси доброї волі та можливості допомоги українським родинам, які, рятуючись від російської агресії, намагаються жити, працювати та навчатися в Польщі. Держава більше не підтримує польок та поляків, які приймають біженців. Настав час заново формувати стосунки та шукати рішення. В OKO.press ми хочемо описати історії гостей з України, почути їх від вас. Також чекаємо на листи від польських роботодавців, господарів та всіх, хто бажає написати коментар чи подати ідею. Пишіть на [email protected].

We are sitting at a table, of which there are a few in a huge tent. A lady walks past with a very satisfied dog in winter clothing: ‘When he came here, there was so much poverty. Shaggy and in a nappy. Because they had been travelling here for several dozen hours,’ says Dominika Przychodzeń.

Where from? From which city?

From areas of Ukraine occupied by Russia.

But is that even possible?

Yes, there is a lot of traffic. You can leave from Russian ‘refugee’ camps – but not to Ukraine. People go north, to Moscow and St Petersburg. And from there through Belarus to Poland. It’s a long and hard journey. The Belarusian border is open, but the Belarusian officials are hostile. But now it is simply safer to go through Belarus by bus than through shell-shocked Ukraine by train.

People, who have lost everything and really have nowhere to return to, come here. Frequently in shock, without any plans.

This bus arrives after a journey into the unknown lasting many hours; it stops here at Warszawa Wschodnia [Warsaw East] Station and...

...a large group of volunteers appears before the travellers, immediately helping them with their luggage and taking the people to this huge tent. We start by hugging and crying. They cry, we cry.

And then we make their start easy. This aid station is run by the city of Warsaw together with the Norwegian Refugee Council. They can start a temporary or permanent life in Poland here or move on.

Młoda kobieta w żółtej kamizelce (Dominika Przychodzeń) wolontariusza siedzi przy stole, na którym jest laptop. W głębi stoisko oznaczone literami NRC
Dominika Przychodzen NFC4

[Dominika Przychodzeń in the NRC tent, 7 November 2022. Photo Agnieszka Jędrzejczyk]

Przeczytaj także:

Dominika’s story

This is the second time I have spoken to Dominika Przychodzeń. In February, before Putin’s war, I wrote her story of how she was being persecuted by the PiS state for taking part in protests and happenings organized by the Cień Mgły [Shadow of Fog] group. She had eleven petty crime cases then. And no convictions.

The police are not filing these motions, so that the court would be able to draw the line on what is acceptable in the public sphere. This is about harassment. About pushing citizens out of the public sphere – if they do not agree with the views of the authorities.

In OKO.press, we call this practice SLAPP, or placing citizens ‘in the crosshairs’.

SLAPP (Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation) is an action filed in court against an activist or journalist/scientist to silence him.

It is the police cases, petty crime cases – dozens per person – that are the most prolific in Poland. The targets are activists throughout Poland defending the rule of law, women’s rights, refugee rights on the Belarusian border and LGBT+ rights. Most of these people are now involved in helping Ukraine which is fighting against Putin. It even seems as if their ability to organize, plan and coordinate themselves (gained during the street protests) has contributed to the Polish public helping Ukraine so effectively.

Dominika Przychodzeń has been working as a volunteer at the transit centre at the Warsaw East Railway Station since March. She manages the Open Dialog Foundation’s aid station located in a large tent run by the Norwegian Refugee Council and the Warsaw authorities.

‘There’s no kidding ourselves – Poland has become clogged up,’ she says.

A matter of hot tea for the refugees

When I call to arrange a meeting, she does not want to talk about her police cases, but about helping Ukraine. However, I ask about that.

‘Nothing has changed. Information about cases going to court comes in all the time – I already have a method whereby I wait until the last day of the oldest advice note and go to the post office with it – while doing that, I pick up what came in afterwards. The police continue to raid my Mum, who lives outside Warsaw. Because that’s where I’m registered. This is an additional element of harassment, because the police know my correspondence address and they know that I receive advice notes from the post office.’

How did she get to the centre at the Warsaw East Station?

‘I came home from work on 24 February, switched on the TV and saw hundreds or even thousands of people at the Polish border trying to get into Poland. I went to the Warsaw West Railway Station, where trains and buses were arriving from Ukraine. And then I went there every day. I did what everyone else was doing: pots of soup, hundreds of sandwiches. Hot tea.

There were lots of people from the protests among the helpers. But I also met new people. And I went with them to the Warsaw East Station. The aid station was being set up by Dominik Berliński from the Open Dialog Foundation. And I then stayed here with them. Now, I am the coordinator of the refugee aid and the manager of this ODF aid station.’

The matter of the 50,000-person tent

And now we meet at the NRC relocation point at the Warsaw East Railway Station. The centre is fenced and guarded. You can only go inside with the permission of a polite but firm security lady, providing you have an appointment. Inside is a large heated tent and barracks with toilets. Inside the tent – tables on one side, beds on the other.

The Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) is at the entrance. Next to it, more stalls. The ODF has its own – when I talk to Dominika Przychodzeń, there are three young people sitting there, typing something on laptops.

It’s quite empty – no buses with refugees arrived that day and none left for Western Europe.

Aleksandra Minkiewicz, NRC, said: ‘We have been in Poland since the start of this war, since 7 March. We have been operating in Ukraine since 2014.

We have welcomed 50,000 people here since 24 March, when the tent was set up at the Warsaw East Railway Station. Some of them then stayed in Poland, some went on. We have created a safe space here for people with refugee experience. Those arriving from Ukraine can stay here, eat warm soup and think about what to do next. Spend a night here, or perhaps two days.

A lot has changed during the nine months of war. We have reduced the size of the tent because the needs are slightly smaller – instead of 1,500 people it can now host 500. But it is heated and prepared for the winter.

Additionally, the centre today serves not only those leaving Ukraine, but also as a stopover for those returning there. We see that increasingly more elderly people and people with disabilities are leaving Ukraine. But also men – these are Ukrainian citizens from areas – as we say at NRC – “not controlled by the authorities in Kyiv”. They are at risk of being drafted into the Russian army.’

Dwie osoby niosa białe paczki z napisem NRC przez błoto. W tle - zniszczony dom
NRC na Ukrainie

[The village of Hrakove in north-eastern Ukraine. Photos from NRC Secretary General Jan Egeland’s mission. Photo NRC]

The matter of travelling from Ukraine through Russia and Belarus

‘This is the last such transit point in Warsaw. And as Ukraine is bombed, rail transport has become unsafe; after all, there are not so many people willing to leave anymore. That is why transport by bus is better – and buses actually get here. Including those going through Belarus,’ Dominika Przychodzeń continues. ‘It’s now several hundred people a week. Some buses are announced; they are organized by a group of volunteers from the Rubikus organization. We then let the NRC know that people are coming. But some refugees organize themselves – they arrive out of the blue.

And we jointly prepare a reception for them in Poland, or travel to Norway or Spain. An average of 150–200 people go there each week.’

The lady with the dog?

Dominika Przychodzeń: ‘She is sorting out the paperwork to start a new life.’

Aleksandra Minkiewicz, NRC: People who are registered at the centre can still come here for meals for a week – to make it easier to organize, adapt, get advice and exchange information.

Dominika Przychodzeń: ‘That’s why the whole trick of good aid is to gather the right information on time: what you need, what your plans are, what you’re interested in. You want to stay in Poland? Then we’ll start looking at what opportunities there are here. Do you want to go further? We need data to make the travel arrangements. Ideally, you should let us know before you leave Ukraine – because that’s when we start the preparations.

On quieter days like today, my team sits and enters the data from the applications.’

But how do these people know that they should report to you?

‘Because this is what you wrote about in OKO.press. When the war started, we spread information about our database through all the communication channels of the street opposition. That’s what the central point of this civic network was. And information spread through that. Through our phone calls and contacts with people from the protests. And they not only helped at the reception points. They also travelled to the border transporting goods to Ukraine. This is how the network of contacts grew.

And I think that’s why the links to the form were getting to where they needed to be; people were reporting to us. It’s wonderful that we have such power.’

The matter of the Facebook links

What was that app?

Dominika Przychodzeń: ‘The same as we have now. We set up two databases at the beginning of the war: for refugees, what help they needed, and for Poles: what they could offer.

The links were on Facebook and the avalanche started. Our coverage also enabled us to launch collections of aid funds.

No one is born an organizer – it’s a skill like any other. We practised it at the protests, where there were numerous unforeseen situations. For instance, the police surrounded us in some place and we had to figure out how to get the people out. So that’s what we’re doing now. We are getting people out of the hell of the war. Getting a grip on aid to Ukraine is done in the same way: together, trusting and relying on each other. And looking for new effective solutions.’

So what does a street activist’s day look like now?

‘The Ukraine aid station operates from 10am to 8pm every day, and longer if necessary. I come here after my “regular” job. I manage the ODF aid station here – I plan and coordinate what needs to be done. I take care of the volunteers – they are so young, some are under 18, and they don’t all have families here. They are all war refugees.

They call me “Matusia”.

And when a bus is arriving or leaving for Norway, we are up all night or early in the morning, depending on the time it is leaving. I’m tired, but not burnt out. We motivate ourselves somehow.

I’m here for them, for my kids. And for the refugees. The contacts with the people fleeing from the war are very intense. We tell each other our whole lives and then we part. But I still keep in touch with many of them. One couple went to the Netherlands, to their son. But now they are going to Ukraine to get their winter things and they stayed with us. I love them like family. They promised to show me their country after the war ends. We are in constant contact with each other through Whatsapp,’ she says.

Ilona’s story

Children’s drawings are hung all around the ODF aid station in the Norwegian Refugee Council tent – they are about the war in Ukraine and victorious tanks in blue and yellow. There’s also a Russian ship that is sinking. And lots of red and white hearts.

These kids were here, played for a while and then left – they found a home either in Poland or somewhere further away.
Fot. Agnieszka Jędrzejczyk

A young girl who Dominika introduces as Ilona breaks off for a moment from the computer into which she is entering data about people who need help: ‘I’m from Mariupol,’ she says in Polish. And quickly adds, so that I don’t miss it: ‘I really know what it’s like to be a refugee. That’s why I’m needed here. Because I understand.’

I didn’t hear her story immediately. It’s not the case that, you find out straight away when you walk into the NRC tent. But listen to the story of Ilona from Mariupol – a volunteer of the Open Dialog Foundation at the NRC centre in Warsaw:

‘I spent two months in a bunker with my mother in Mariupol. We went down there on 2 March and came out on 2 May. During that time we had no contact with the outside world. There was no telephone coverage. There wasn’t always something to eat. There were about 200 people in the bunker, people were dying there. The bodies couldn’t be taken out. There were flats above the bunker that the Russians had taken over. They came down to the bunker every day. They would accost me, telling me how beautiful I was. They were disgusting.

When we were finally able to go outside, we didn’t know if Ukraine still existed. It wasn’t until I managed to get a signal that we started receiving messages from friends. Everyone was asking how we were. Are we alive?

I got a sweet from a Ukrainian soldier who comforted us and promised that everything would be fine. I promised him that I would eat it when Ukraine wins the war. That soldier is dead. The Russky katsaps slit his throat.

We tried to call my grandmother, she lived near Azovstal. The phone didn’t answer. We went to her 13 km on foot. There was no one home. We were sure she was dead. My aunt found my grandmother after a month. Granny had been in a shelter all that time.

We returned home with Granny and then the Russkies set fire to the hotel next door. The fire spread to granny’s house and we had to quickly go downstairs. But granny was unable to – she doesn’t walk. It would have taken an hour to go down with her. We resigned ourselves to our fate, to death. But the fire didn’t reach us, it stopped below us.

My mother and I got to Poland in an evacuation bus. Then, we were able to leave Mariupol. Granny stayed. Mum works in France, I work here.

And one more thing: please call me Ilonka. I don’t have to be such a tough Ilona here’.

The matter of two suitcases

A young boy comes up to our table, points at a woman with a small suitcase: The rest of your luggage is at the Warsaw West Station. We have to bring it. What, now?

Dominika nods: ‘OK, if the driver is free.’

Dominika turns to me: ‘The Ukrainian volunteers didn’t speak Polish at first. But we learn. They want to learn so we understand each other properly. It’s more difficult the other way, because you people here are familiar with Russian, but they don’t speak Russian here.

But there was a problem with this lady with the luggage, because she had already arranged for a place in a dormitory for families, but she turned up a day too late and her place had been taken by someone else. Now we have to arrange everything from the beginning – these things happen too.

There is no way of getting to the Warsaw West Railway Station from here, we have to send a car. The state supposedly organizes assistance, but it hasn’t arranged such a minor thing as free transport between aid stations. And refugees cannot overcome such a minor issue – that is why volunteers are needed.

The same goes for the 40+ aid. It was supposed to be extended for older refugees, because it’s really hard for them to start life over again. But, in practice, they keep refusing someone and we have to reverse that. These are such little things, shortcomings – but it really creates a lot of work for us.’

But how does the bus come here, to Warsaw East?

Dominika Przychodzeń: ‘From the east? We have beds in a tent there and that’s where we take the luggage of the travellers. First, they have to rest. Then, we start talking; we ask them what they need. What are their plans? Whoever needs accommodation in Warsaw gets a place to sleep from us for 30 days. We could also send them to a Habitat hostel for a fortnight (but that was only until the end of November). And there is a dormitory for families at ul. Łazienkowska.

We help with the preparation of documents, with looking for work. We try very hard to tailor our aid to the given person – because that is what good help is about, not that everyone gets the same.

We developed the whole procedure from the bottom up. It started with food, then finding places in homes, with people. We have helped more than 7,000 people find accommodation since the start of the war. This is very professionally organized.’

The matter of borscht

Aleksandra Minkiewicz, NRC: ‘Our partner is the City of Warsaw. And this help cannot be overestimated. They are open, prepared to cooperate. They gave land, they pay for the utilities.

It’s also very important that the centre has become a place for Polish NGOs specializing in various forms of aid. They can work together here and share experiences. ODF is one such organization.

This is a new experience for NRC as an international organization – we are creating a platform for local partners to work together. Because there was already capital and knowledge in Poland on how to become organized to provide aid. The civic society that has been built for 30 years has worked.

We just support Polish organizations and share our experience of working with refugees during other crises.

On top of that, we also make sure that the helpers are treated properly, that they have psychological support. After all, they are in everyday contact with people who have experienced traumas. We train them on humanitarian law and on how to recognize the first signs of human trafficking. And, obviously, the training is in Polish, with possible translation into Ukrainian.

All the specialist assistance is Polish: legal (the Bar Association, Society of Friends of Ukraine), psychological (the Suddenly Alone Foundation – they provide this aid in several languages), looking for housing and work in Poland, or travelling abroad (like ODF).

The aid is comprehensive and actually tailored to the needs. For example, the security guards here are Ukrainian ladies – we felt it should be women because, especially at the beginning, women with children were in the majority. Female security introduces a sense of comfort.

Meals are prepared by the Słuszna Sprawa [Just Cause] cooperative, which employs Ukrainian women. After many hours of travel, people get real Ukrainian borscht here and know that they can really breathe here. They talk about it afterwards – we know this from the reports from our offices – all over Europe. Most recently in Vienna.

About the borscht and the fact that the aid was organized with individual needs in mind,’ she emphasizes.

The matter of travelling to Norway

And how do you arrange travel to Norway?

Dominika Przychodzeń: ‘Through the network of contacts that ODF currently has. We organize transportation, handle the paperwork – and the refugees go on their way. First, it was Denmark, now it is primarily Norway. And recently also Spain.

Norway, especially, is a good destination, because senior citizens and anyone who cannot make it in Poland because they cannot work can find refuge there. Norwegian aid also operates through a network of NGOs and volunteers. They hold local collections (‘a penny’ to the cost of a loaf of bread), and buses are sent to Poland by Hvite busser 2022 (White buses).’

The matter of reflectors for Drohobych

‘We are now preparing for the winter,’ emphasizes Dominika Przychodzeń. ‘NRC also expects more traffic at our centre. But Ukraine itself also needs help. A few weeks ago, we were with the ODF mission in western Ukraine, in Drohobych. Seemingly far from the front, but it was already cold and dark there at that time – because they were saving electricity.

We went there with the usual. But it didn’t occur to us that we needed to take candles. Torches and candles. Because there were already power cuts there – they were saving energy. Now we know what is really needed. Sources of light and heat. Additionally, sleeping bags and winter tents. And thermal underwear – but we already knew that because of our experience with the protests.

Now, we are also collecting reflectors for the children. It’s dark now and you have to remember the kids: www.zrzutka.pl/PomocUkrainie.’

The matter of the lawn at Wawel

And are the police and the courts that try you aware of all this?

Dominika Przychodzeń: ‘I’m not bragging. The authorities are unfamiliar with my activities. These are parallel worlds for them. And one for me – because if I have enough time, I continue to protest. Recently, after the ‘Wawelnicy’ in Kraków [a protest against the closure of the Wawel Castle for the authorities to hold ritual celebrations on the monthly anniversary of the burial of the presidential couple in the cathedral – ed.] they noted my identity “for walking on the lawn”. A policeman wrote down my registered address, but not for correspondence – and again they were looking for me and my mum. Somehow they didn’t spare any money on that....

I had some discontinuations, I also have convictions, but these were default convictions [without a hearing – ed.]. I file objections to them – the cases are supposed to go to trial, but none has yet taken place. I recently filed a complaint against the action of the police for taking me from the front of the Sejm to the police station. The judge held that detentions after refusals to present identification documents were groundless but legal. I don’t see the logic in that – I don’t understand it. Legal but groundless?’

I asked the lawyers. The courts make the assumption that if someone is not protected by immunity, detention is, by definition, legal. At the time of the detention, it may not be known whether it is justified – this is checked later. So, from a legal point of view, the detention may be groundless, but legal. Only that this routine practice does not take into account the situation when the policeman actually knows right away that there are no grounds for the detention. That it is harassment...

‘OK. I collect the summonses in bulk. This is the case for many people from the “Shadow of the Fog” collective.’

To the Polish State, an activist and volunteer is just a hooligan.

‘We are all “hooligans”. Who do a great deal of work for the state.

And when the war in Ukraine is over and no help is needed here?

Then I will return to the protests. Because I cannot really imagine a state that would not need protesting citizens. But the first thing will be that I will take “my kids” from the station and we shall go to Ukraine to celebrate the victory.’

Agnieszka Jędrzejczyk

Z wykształcenia historyczka. Od 1989 do 2011 r. reporterka sejmowa, a potem redaktorka w „Gazecie Wyborczej”, do grudnia 2015 r. - w administracji rządowej (w zespołach, które przygotowały nową ustawę o zbiórkach publicznych i zmieniły – na krótko – zasady konsultacji publicznych). Do lipca 2021 r. w Biurze Rzecznika Praw Obywatelskich. Laureatka Pióra Nadziei 2022