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Przemyśl, the Ukraine/Poland border town where tens of thousands of refugees cross daily

The Journal’s Niall O’Connor will be reporting from the Polish border and in the frontier town of Przemysl.

THE TOWN OF Przemyśl on the Polish/Ukraine border has become the focal point of escape for tens of thousands of Ukrainian refugees. 

The local train station connects directly with the cities of Kyiv and Lviv, with trains arriving with hundreds of weary civilians fleeing the Russian onslaught. 

It is also the point of departure for those going in to the warzone – a mishmash of military veterans, Ukrainian patriots and convoys of aid and arms.  

The Journal will be reporting from this frontier town over the coming days, bringing you the stories of the people who are fleeing, the mammoth Polish aid effort and the stories of those seeking their chance to strike back at Russia. 

Przemyśl is just under 97kms from Lviv and a lengthy train ride to Kyiv. The main border road crossing is Medyka, a short distance from the town. 

In the city of Rzeszow, to the west of Przemyśl, the local airport has become a hub for arriving aid and arms, with reports of Nato missile batteries in the area in recent days. 

Trains arrive here daily from Lviv with some refugees reporting a 26-hour journey from Kyiv.

2.65572338 A Ukrainian family take the Dnipro-Truskavets train at Lviv railway station in west Ukraine Bernat Armangue / AP Bernat Armangue / AP / AP

Polish authorities have told this website that the Polish Government have mobilised a humanitarian missions with official government agencies, charities and local people rallying to the call for help. 

In total there are 27 reception points for them at the borders. We are welcoming all refugees fleeing the Russian invasion regardless of race or nationality – the majority are Ukrainian, but there are also groups from India, Georgia, Nigeria and other countries.

“We have a real humanitarian crisis, over one and a half million people have now fled Ukraine. There is a special medical train that collects people who are in need of medical assistance between Warsaw and Medyka.

“We do not ask anyone to quarantine coming into Poland from the war zone, no one checks Covid certs or anything like that. We accepts all pets, without any papers.  Ordinary Polish people are driving to the border wanting to help bringing food and taking people away to safe homes,” a Polish Government spokesperson said. 

Across the border

The plan to ferry the refugees from the border is a simple one: they arrive by road or by train direct from the war-torn areas east of Lviv. 

They are then given assistance and assessed for where they wish to go – with buses and other train services then bringing them to locations, not just in Poland, but in every far-reaching corner of Europe. 

The current situation, according to diplomatic sources, is fraught and fluid – little can be predicted in the long term. 

Irish diplomats are focusing on managing Ireland’s response in their United Nations missions in New York and Geneva. They are also working closely with their EU partners. 

Ireland is also one of more than 30 countries that has referred the Vladimir Putin Regime to the International Criminal Court. A team of Irish diplomats is also focused on that investigation as teams of lawyers begin the process of investigation.  

2.65564830 People fleeing the conflict in neighbouring Ukraine cross the border in Przemysl, Poland David Josek / AP David Josek / AP / AP

The threat of violence in the border region is low compared to just a few kilometres further east, but diplomatic missions are concerned about a potential change in the tactical prosecution of the war by Russia.

But sources have cautioned that the opening of humanitarian corridors for refugees by Russia could be a harbinger of much worse to come. 

A senior source has said that such corridors have been used by Russian forces in Syria in the past. The corridors open for a short time, allowing some civilians to flee before closing the encirclement again.

It is then declared by Russia that those left in the area are combatants, and the fear of international diplomats and military observers is that this could bring forward the slaughter of civilians on a scale unseen in Europe since the collapse of the former Yugoslavia in the late 1990s.  

The fears that Lviv and areas around the border could be shelled or attacked by Russian forces is unlikely at present, but a senior source has said that it is impossible to predict past the coming days. 

There are also concerns for Ukrainian nuclear power plants as power has been cut to the Chernobyl power plant, the site of the world’s worst nuclear disaster, Ukraine said yesterday. However the UN’s atomic watchdog said there was “no critical impact on safety”.

The plant “was fully disconnected from the power grid,” Ukraine’s energy operator Ukrenergo said in a statement on its Facebook page, adding that military operations meant “there is no possibility to restore the lines”.

It said that there was also no power to the site’s security systems.

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) expressed “deep concern” over reports that communication from the plant had been disrupted.

Invading Russian forces attacked and seized the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant in Ukraine on Friday.

The nuclear plants are now in the hands of Russian troops, but despite those concerns of a repeat of the 1986 Chernobyl meltdown it is the gathering wave of refugees that concerns diplomats the most. 

Diplomatic sources have said that the big concern is for Moldova – the country is underdeveloped and struggling to find the resources to sustain the flood of people.

The Polish authorities are dealing well with the current flow of Ukrainian civilians but there are strong concerns for what may happen as the war intensifies. 

Refugee-wise, they expect Poland to become fairly overwhelmed in coming days. They are also very worried about Moldova and the risk of a major humanitarian problem there, as well as the risk of more civilian attacks similar to the Syria playbook. 

Niall will be updating us from Poland, and you can also follow him on Twitter.

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