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


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].

Successive photographs of those they have helped can be found almost every day on the FB page operated by Kajetan Wróblewski, an activist from the Asymmetrists organization, which has been helping refugees from Ukraine since the beginning of the full-scale war. They found them a roof over their heads for a few days, arranged a flight ticket to Ireland, a coach to Norway, and so on. These are families, often with pets, old people, quite a few people in wheelchairs.

Wróblewski explains that a dozen or so organizations are helping refugees get to Poland from Ukraine or its occupied territories. Now, mainly to Warsaw – the most important migration route. ‘The last free train to Germany – to Hannover – from Przemyśl stopped running at the beginning of May. Now, this traffic is going through Warsaw,’ he adds.

They arrange their documents, complete the paperwork, get a PESEL number, etc. in the capital, and move on. Only two NGOs, the German Rubikus and the Ukrainian Helping to Leave, organize the whole journey to the West with only a stopover in Warsaw. ‘The rest only bring them here. We help them from here,’ says Wróblewski.

The Asymmetrists themselves have already relocated 5,500 people to the West, while large foreign NGOs have relocated tens of thousands each.

Przeczytaj także:

Cuts, cuts, cuts

Wróblewski mainly operates at the refugee transit centre at the Warsaw East railway station. He started sounding the alarm in May that the most important places to stay and provide relief for transit refugees in the capital were to close their doors in the summer or at least significantly cut back on their operations.

The situation worsened earlier. After the Novaya Kakhovka dam was blown up and flooded huge areas of the Kherson region, a wave of refugees came to Warsaw in the middle of June – this was 1,000–1,500 a day.

On 29 June, Wróblewski wrote: ‘Today, I could not find accommodation anywhere for a mother with children aged 3 and 11 so they could stay until 4 July when they were to fly to Norway. (...) If a miracle hadn’t happened, she would have been left on the streets.’

Meanwhile, the cuts in places to stay were yet to come

The Warsaw Crisis Intervention Centre, a local government facility, had up to 40 places reserved for refugees until the end of June. They wanted to liquidate it completely, but 20 were left. ‘There’s no demand for more – recently, there were sometimes only a few people at a time,’ the person answering the phones at the Warsaw Crisis Intervention Centre intervention point explains to us.

The Habitat for Humanity Poland Foundation – the organization that provided accommodation for refugees in transit – also confirms that they had reduced the number of rooms in hostels rented for migrants since July. 17 out of 21 are left. These are three-, four- and five-bed rooms – Wróblewski claims there had been a total of 82 places up to the end of June.

But that is coming to an end – from 15 July, Habitat no longer has the money to pay for this accommodation. ‘We want to keep up this form of support, but we are looking for funding for it from donors,’ Katarzyna Przybylska from Habitat for Humanity Poland declared on 7 July.

The situation at Habitat suddenly changed on 12 July, in the nick of time. ‘We have funding for a three-month extension for twenty-one 3- and 4-bed rooms,’ Przybylska confirms to us.

‘This doesn’t solve the problem, because there is also a shortage of places at Habitat,’ points out Agata Malec from Rubikus.

30% of what there was

What worries the activists the most is the change in the Warsaw Transit Centre – an accommodation and relief point near the Warsaw East railway station, from which 75,000 people have already benefited. A huge tent has been put away, and two smaller ones, of a total area of 30% of what there was, have been operating instead since 7 July. The long rows of chairs and camp beds are disappearing – there were up to 70 of them to date. There, it was possible to sleep for several nights.

Now, there will be 30 folding ‘armchairs,’ which are more like deckchairs. There are also to be 50 chairs. It will be possible to spend the night there, but not as comfortably as previously. Instead of well over 100 people at a time, the centre will now help a maximum of 80. ‘We don’t have anywhere to keep, for example, nappies for mothers or the elderly anymore – that’s how much the space has been reduced by,’ adds Wróblewski.

At the centre, those fleeing from the war could finally get a good night’s sleep, have a bath, do the laundry, eat and get medical and psychological help after their traumas and sometimes weeks of wandering around. They could also get information on what to do next – find a plane, a bus or a train to Western countries.

For a long time, the centre has mainly been sponsored by the NRC, the Norwegian Refugee Council, an independent giant operating in 40 countries around the world helping people forced to flee from their countries. In 2022 alone, the NRC helped 10 million refugees through 15,000 of its volunteers.

Anxiety among social organizations

Cutting aid opportunities at the Warsaw East Railway Station has caused a great deal of concern among NGOs that relocate refugees – at least 10 organizations have sent letters to the NRC on this. These include

  • Helping to Leave – H2L – the largest Ukrainian NGO helping people with their evacuation abroad;
  • Rubikus – a German organization that has evacuated more than 60,000 people from occupied territories thanks to Russian volunteers;
  • On My Way Ukraine – one of the largest Dutch volunteer organizations offering aid in the East;
  • Israel for Ukraine – more than 250 buses sent from Ukraine to Poland;
  • as well as Union, Peremoha UA, FinEst Volunteers and other organizations from Finland, Norway and Poland.

We obtained some of these letters.

UNION wrote: ‘The Warsaw Transit Centre is a key point for people leaving Ukraine for EU countries, and such a change will cause numerous problems for refugees.’

Humanitarian Aid asked its NRC colleagues to ‘reconsider its decision and examine alternative options to ensure the continuation of the services’ – shelter for refugees.

Helping to Leave emphasized that Warsaw is the only hub they use to transport Ukrainians from areas that have been liberated and are still under Russian occupation. ‘The closure of the Centre would have a devastating effect on the already established evacuation routes, not only of our organization, but also all others helping Ukrainians escape to Europe,’ wrote Anna Platunova of H2L.

She empahsized that this is the only centre in the capital with a personalized approach to refugees.

Jacek, an activist from the Asymmetrists, explains why the restrictions on the centre’s capabilities at the Warsaw East Station and the other points that help transiting people are so painful. ‘Warsaw has become a very important point on the already established migration route which ends in the Netherlands, Denmark and Norway. And it is here that there will now be a shortage of accommodation.’

He points out that neither Przemyśl nor Kraków have the capabilities of the capital.

‘It’s a difficult decision, but we have to cut costs’

The NRC confirms that thousands of Ukrainians are still coming to Poland’s capital in transit every day, but not all of them go to the centre at the Warsaw East Station. People from an average of about 5 buses a week currently use the centre’s services – that is about 250 people, whereas it was double that number, for example, in January 2023, whereas, in May 2022, when the NRC had more tents, there were as many as 8 times more.

Neil Brighton, director of NRC Poland, confirms that they ‘rearranged’ the tent at the Warsaw East Station. ‘We see that it’s an important place for refugees, because they get information and support there, but this centre cannot be so big. It’s a difficult decision, but we have to cut costs, while leaving the key services,’ points out Brighton.

The NRC explains that the cuts are due to the drop in funding of about 50% and needs in other hot spots around the world. ‘What remains is enough for the current influx,’ assures Brighton.

Volunteers say the monthly upkeep of the centre was expected to cost as much as PLN 700,000. Brighton is not giving any specifics, but confirms that it is several hundred thousand zlotys a month.

‘Warsaw currently covers the cost of utilities, which reached up to several hundred thousand zlotys in the winter months,’ writes Jakub Leduchowski, deputy press officer for the City of Warsaw. The tent is standing on the local government’s land and, officially, the City Hall jointly manages the point.

What costs so much? Fuel for heating or air conditioning, cleaning, security, laundering of bedding.

‘We appreciate the work of the volunteers, but we are also looking for alternative options that are less expensive,’ points out Brighton.

Just not to PTAK

The PTAK Humanitarian Aid Centre in Nadarzyn near Warsaw, the once largest overnight shelter for refugees, still operates at the exhibition and conference halls, paid for by the voivod. Up to 7,000 people slept there at a time just after the war broke out.

PTAK is still operating, but has a very bad reputation – a place where it is easy to get infected with something, lose something, where it can be dangerous. Jacek, an activist from the Asymmetrists, claims that he himself once asked for police protection there, because he did not feel safe. He also heard threats that his car would be destroyed.

Organizations do not want to send refugees to PTAK. ‘It’s a threat to the physical and mental health of the refugees. No organization will risk it,’ Jacek believes. ‘It’s a long way from the centre of Warsaw and it’s difficult to leave the place,’ adds Agata Malec from Rubikus. It is especially difficult to get to the airports for very early morning departures.

A shelter for migrants is operating at ul. Modlinska in the Global Expo halls, but the NGOs are not sending their wards there either. ‘That is for people who already have a Polish PESEL number,’ Wróblewski points out. People in transit do not normally have one yet.

The Oczami Nieba Foundation overnight shelter has 30 places

But this is certainly not enough – on the last Friday of June, as many as four buses arrived at the tent at the Warsaw East Station. A total of 144 refugees.

Agata Malec from Rubikus: ‘We still have 5–6 buses a week from the flooded territories. Rubikus is currently renting 36 places in a hostel in the centre of Warsaw, but this is not even enough for everyone from one bus for 1 night. If there are even fewer of these places, we’ll have to buy them accommodation, and then we’ll run out of money for tickets for their onward journey. So the refugees will stay in Warsaw.’ She also believes they will end up in shelters for the homeless.

Wróblewski: ‘Those who we cannot accommodate will have to sit at railway stations and on lawns.’

Jacek says that volunteers from Odessa do not send their internally displaced people to Warsaw by bus, because they know what the situation is in Warsaw.

Katarzyna Przybylska from Habitat says they are seeing a reduction in the number of beds in collective accommodation centres, throughout the country.

This is changing in favour of medium and long-term accommodation. ‘Habitat is also operating such a social rental programme – the opportunity to live for 12 months,’ she adds.

But these are solutions for those who want to stay in Poland. Meanwhile, according to the Asymmetrists, the number of people willing to stay in Poland has declined dramatically. ‘Up to October of last year, half the people wanted to stay here; in December it was only 30%, and now it is just 5%,’ says Wróblewski.

‘They haven’t eaten anything normal for a week’

‘There have been virtually no free meals for refugees since 1 July,’ alerts Wróblewski. The NRC continues to give out ‘meals’ to refugees at the Warsaw East Station, claims Press Officer Leduchowski from the Warsaw City Hall. ‘Meals? They’ve been giving chocolate bars and mousses since 1 July. They send people to points where the poor in Warsaw are fed.’

We checked – only three from the City Hall’s list were operating. The tents at the Warsaw East Station currently do not even have bottled water! Or toilets for the disabled! There is one kettle for boiling tea. What can we do if several dozen people arrive after 4–5 days of travelling?’ asks Wróblewski rhetorically.

‘We won’t have any way of feeding these people, who are here only for transfer purposes,’ adds Jacek.

Agata Malec from Rubikus admits that there is already a major problem with feeding the transferees. ‘People are now coming from the flooded areas – they have nothing and will not be able to buy food in the city,’ she points out. Some activists send them to so-called canteens for the homeless.

An activist who asks for anonymity: ‘Yesterday, I had a family who hadn’t eaten anything normal for a week. They had no money to pay for it, and were ashamed to ask. They only came to us now, when they became very hungry. We sent them to the Salvation Army for a supply of products,’ she relates.

Another story: a girl at the border broke her leg. In Warsaw, they told her to go to the emergency ward. She did that, but there they told her to pay a huge amount of money for the help because she hadn’t managed to get a PESEL number yet – so there is no free medical care.

‘She was supposed to have a flight to the West. We told her we would get her another ticket, but she was already fed up with Poland. She just wanted to be taken to the Warsaw West Station and, from there, she went to Uzhhorod – she has family there and they will help her medically. There are plenty of such stories, and this is just the beginning of the new situation. Because the buses are still coming – the wave after the Novaya Kakhovka dam was blown up has not subsided,’ Wróblewski concludes.

Norway – a paradise for refugees

If not Poland, where do the refugees currently most want to go now?

‘We send people to many countries: Denmark, the Netherlands, ... But we advise Finland and Norway the most – because the opinion of the refugees there about the relief given to them is the best,’ claims Wróblewski. They know this by staying in touch with those who left.

As recently as in June, there were 4–5 buses to Norway. It is more difficult to get such transport in the summer – drivers make money on tourists.

NSFUR, Norwegian Support for Ukrainian Refugees, a small, 6-member organization, whose members we just happen to meet at the Warsaw East Railway Station when they arrive to pick up the next group of migrants, is among those who take refugees to the fjords.

‘We take them to Rade – a centre for refugees near Oslo. From there, they go to other towns and are placed in hotels, sanatoriums and military camps. We have taken 677 people there to date. We are taking another 50 today,’ says Sanden Odd Gunnar from NSFUR.

The Norwegians come when they raise the money for the trip – a cost of approx. 250 euros per person – for renting a coach, drivers, paying for the ferry, fuel, etc.

The Norwegians describe the type of care Ukrainian refugees get in their country: – they have language courses, integrate with the local residents, learn about local traditions, politics and society. They are being prepared to become independent in the country.

49,500 refugees from Ukraine had gone to Norway by the middle of June 2023.

Why do they assess the assistance in this country so highly? ‘They get a roof over their heads for free, nursery school for their children, medical care. They live in small communities, without stress, with plenty of space for themselves. If they go on a course, they also get some pin money,’ says Natasha Chernichenko, a Ukrainian who has lived in Norway for a long time and is active in NSFUR.

‘We will help as long as we can’

Wróblewski talks about the bus of the Asymmetrians – the Pea – a bright green Opel for 8 passengers, which is visible in numerous photographs on his FB page. They use it to transport up to 40 people a day to airports and railway stations. People with a large amount of luggage, large families, disabled people. But they even frequently do not have money for fuel for the Pea – the accounts of the Asymmetrists are empty.

Volunteers pay for fuel out of their own pockets, and use their own cars. Wróblewski is concerned about what is going to happen to the aid for the refugees, because it is becoming increasingly difficult to obtain funds.

On 6 July, he writes a ‘Letter to the Beloved’ – Ukraine – on FB

‘I owe you more than I have done for you. (...) You gave me the friendship and love of people, the kind of love you do not encounter every day anymore. I know I am not alone. Norway and Finland love you (and I love the volunteers from there). We will help as long as we can. Glory to Ukraine!’.



Krzysztof Boczek

Ślązak, z pierwszego wykształcenia górnik, potem geograf, fotoreporter, szkoleniowiec, a przede wszystkim dziennikarz, od początku piszący o podróżach i rozwoju, a od kilkunastu lat głównie o służbie zdrowia i mediach. Zaczynał w Gazecie Wyborczej w Katowicach, potem autor w kilkudziesięciu tytułach, od lat stały współpracownik PRESS, SENS, Służba Zdrowia. W tym zawodzie ceni niezależność.