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Prezymsl City Hall spokesperson and aid worker Kamil Krukiewicz inside the train station where trains from Kyiv and Lviv arrive. Niall O'Connor/The Journal
Humanitarian Crisis

At the border: 'People should stop sending us summer clothes. We need food and things for babies'

Niall O’Connor reports from the Polish/Ukraine border.

The Journal’s Niall O’Connor is reporting from the Poland/Ukraine border. Read his previous stories here

POLISH OFFICIALS WORKING on the frontlines in the city of Przemysl have appealed for Irish aid efforts to communicate with them before sending over shipments of goods which may not be needed.

They have also said that large quantities of clothing supplies being sent from Ireland are summer clothes, which are unsuitable for the freezing conditions at the Polish/Ukrainian border where temperatures dip to lower than minus five degrees Celsius at night.

The city hall of Przemysl is leading the response to the Ukraine refugee crisis with tens of thousands of Ukrainian citizens crossing the border to flee the fighting, either by road, at the village of Mydecka, or by taking a train directly from Kyiv or Lviv. 

The Journal spoke to City Hall official Kamil Krukiewicz who explained how the town is dealing with the biggest movement of people from a warzone since World War Two. 

Kamil and his colleagues are co-ordinating the response and providing bedding, medical assistance, food and warmth to the refugees as they cross the border into Poland.

They are also co-ordinating hundreds of volunteers who have flooded into the town to lend a hand.

One major problem they are dealing with is that the wrong aid is being shipped to Poland. 

“At this moment, they can send the most important things to us but before they send it we would ask them to please contact us on our website,” Kamil said today. 

“A lot of people have sent us things, we have a lot of things to help the refugees but we can’t use it.

“Like a lot of clothes are sent here but they are not winter clothes – a lot of people send beach clothes, summer clothes. It is not now the time for these clothes – it is too cold. 

“We have cold days and we cannot use them for the people.

“We say send the cold food, the food that will last the longest. And they need to organise transport to go to places like Ireland, because we can organise the bus to Germany and other countries but we haven’t got transport to Ireland and other places in western Europe like the UK,” Kamil said. 

Irish charities have repeatedly asked people to donate money or else targeted goods. 

poland-russia-ukraine-war People wait at the Przemysl train station after fleeing from Ukraine Daniel Cole Daniel Cole

The Przemysl City Hall official also explained that many smaller items are needed that can help immediately. 

“We need things for the babies: food, clothing, nappies. We need also hygienic products for women, and food that will last.

“We need water in small bottles, not big bottles, because we can give them to the children and they can carry the bottles. And we need medical supplies,” he said. 

Kamil said that local authorities provide beds in multiple locations across the city for the arriving refugees – they spend at most two nights in the city and then move on. 

Many are moved on to other areas of Poland and Europe rapidly.

“A lot of the refugees that come here, they have family and friends in other parts of the world and they want to go to where they are. 

“Only one or two people do not have a place where they have family to go to. At the moment, here, we have good organisation and we plan how we are doing it.”

The local Tesco has been seconded to be a hub for organising the logistics for the large numbers of refugees. To give an idea of the scale, Kamil noted that even during the night, an average of 3,000 refugees cross over into Poland at the border. 

At the train station, The Journal met Dermot Douglas and Josephine Douglas who live near Frankfurt in Germany. 

Dermot, who is originally from County Tyrone, travelled with his daughter Josephine with aid. 

They said they handed over the aid to other humanitarians heading into Ukraine and were now offering transport to refugees into Germany. 

Image from iOS (7) German-Irish woman Josephine Douglas holding her sign offering free transport to Germany. Niall O'Connor / The Journal Niall O'Connor / The Journal / The Journal

Josephine was carrying a large sign with Germany written in large letters and the names of the cities they could bring refugees to. 

“We are here to help. We brought goods here and then had a bus full of aid, but to get the buses full again we are bringing people back to Germany.

“We are offering them free lifts and a free place to stay for two to three days or longer, depending on their situation. 

“Most of them want to leave and make their own way. Our own view on this situation is that it is scary to see people who are not poor and people like everyone of us here,” she said. 

A number of Transport Ministers from European countries met at the train station in Przemysl, where the Polish Minister for Transport and Infrastructure Minister Andrzej Adamczyk said that he would welcome assistance from Ireland. 

Bedding and medical supplies from Ireland, delivered by six trucks from Irish haulage firm Hendricks European, arrived this morning.

Image from iOS (9) Irish aid is unloaded inside a former Tesco Shopping Centre now transformed into a refugee logistics centre. Kevin Byrne Kevin Byrne

At the border crossing in Medyka aid, workers continued to assist the arriving refugees.

The traffic was not just one way. For a second day in a row, massive German medical aid convoys crossed over into Ukraine – destined for Lviv.   

Read more from Niall O’Connor here

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