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‘If it was not for the aid coming from Poland, it could be a total mess’

01 April 2022

Giacomo Sini and Alessia Manzi report from the Ukraine-Poland border

Giacomo Sini

The Revd Ryszard Pedzimaz in St Joseph’s, Shehyni, near Lviv, Ukraine

The Revd Ryszard Pedzimaz in St Joseph’s, Shehyni, near Lviv, Ukraine

“I WAS only able to get more than 20 litres of petrol because I am a parish priest and can move around easily. Otherwise, the situation here is not at all simple.”

Fr Ryszard Pedzimaz is a Polish priest who, after several years in Rio de Janeiro, now serves at St Joseph’s, near Shehyni in Lviv Oblast, Western Ukraine. He has been in the country for the past seven years.

“For three weeks there has been a lack of water and food. There are no more medicines and we hardly have any electricity,” he says.

“This is the humanitarian aid we are getting by with.” He indicates boxes of medicine, clothes, and food stacked in front of Christ on the cross. “If it was not for the aid coming from Poland, it could be a total mess.

“There are no more connections to the main cities. Those who can [do so] cross the border to Poland, where they buy basic necessities, then go back here.”

This is a relatively safe area. Kyiv is more than ten hours’ drive away.

Outside, there is hardly anyone to be seen on the streets. Two young boys on bicycles rush home when they hear a foreign accent, while an elderly woman comes out empty-handed from the only little supermarket on a narrow road that fades into the endless countryside.

“During the first few days, thousands of people passed through here,” Fr Ryszard says. “There were pregnant women who walked 17 kilometres through the snow and the cold. We’ve have been offering them food and a place to rest inside the Church, before crossing the border.

“I often give a lift to people for the border. Here, we can only help as much as we can.”

At passport control to enter Poland, the queue is almost a kilometre long. “Do you want to take this little dog with you? He’s lost,” asks Sofyia, one of the volunteers.

“I live in America, but I have Ukrainian roots. I decided to bring my support here, but the situation is terrible,” she says.

In the midst of the crowd of people, a young girl squats on a suitcase. Her eyes are bright as her mother continues to stroke her long blonde hair. Just behind them, in silence, two elderly men wait their turn to pass next to a girl who telephones without ever receiving an answer.

“I don’t have my house any more,” says Ivan, a man of about 40 who is waiting to leave Ukraine thanks to a special permit. “We are from Kharkhiv. The bombs have razed everything to the ground,” adds Nataliya, his wife; they approach the turnstiles, taking their baby daughter in their arms.

“Now we are going to Germany. A new life awaits us in Stuttgart,” Ivan says. After around four and a half hours in line, people finally enter Poland.

A few steps from the border, inside Poland, volunteers distribute hot chocolate and soft toys.

“I left my family in Donetsk,” says Olga, a young refugee turned helper. “Here, I decided to help others as an interpreter. Many people don’t know Ukrainian. I can speak several languages. I pray every day that my family will decide to escape and join me here. What is happening to my country, to Ukraine, is terrible.” She bursts into tears.

Some names have been changed

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