Situation Report on the Poland-Ukraine Border
Bernard Hudson, Senior Advisor at ISD, recently visited the Polish town of Medyka on the Polish-Ukraine border. Read on for his situation report.
On Sunday, 13 March 2022, I spent an hour at the Polish border town of Medyka, which is located in South East Poland near the Polish city of Przemysl. Medyka has a small, provincial train station adjacent to the border with Ukraine
There was a cluster of makeshift warehouses within a few hundred meters of the train station. These are staffed mainly by local Poles and have a strong police presence and what appear to be a few foreign volunteers. A steady stream of vehicles and volunteers from across Europe make their way to these and drop off a variety of goods for the refugees. I went to two of them. One appears to be mostly dedicated to medical supplies, and the other was for a variety of other goods, including clothing, blankets, and food.
The train station is accessible by a small country road, around which is a cordon of Polish police and armed forces. There is at least a score of Polish and foreign NGOs along the entrance to the train station. I saw Japanese, Israeli, Sikh, American, French, Irish, and German NGOs and volunteer organizations. Many of the supplies are stored in places open to the elements, and while it was not raining the day I went, inclement weather could quickly complicate relief efforts and spoil many of the supplies, which are stored in makeshift tents or are open to the elements.
Most of the NGO stalls line a 100-meter concrete pathway, which leads from the gate of the modest train station to the street. Every foot of the space on either side of the walkway is filled up with NGOs offering food, SIM cards, children's toys, and children's clothing. I spoke with several of the NGOs, who observed that the greatest needs seem to be for baby food and warm clothing. They also said more volunteers are needed.
While I was there, I observed about 200 refugees arrive, line up along the concrete pathway to be quickly processed by the Polish authorities, and then be sent a short distance down a road. 90% of the refugees were women and children, and included many newborns and the elderly. There were essentially no men between 18 to 60 among them.
Along the road were volunteer rides or organized buses to take refugees to a variety of destinations in Poland and continental Europe. While some of the refugees stay for some short time in Przemsyl and Medyka, most seem to move on to Warsaw as a first, intermediary stop. The Polish police have started to scrutinize volunteer drivers and log which refugees get into which cars to avoid refugees from winding up in the wrong hands.
From what I observed at the train station, the effort could probably benefit from the following:
A capability to shelter the refugees and supplies from the weather, which will certainly get rainy.
A dedicated catering service to assist the volunteers and the refugees. The volunteers are doing a good job of getting food to people on site, but there is no place to easily sit down and allow the refugees to eat.
Dedicated and professional logisticians to help catalogue and distribute supplies. The volunteers are doing well, but given the growing scale, the process could be improved.
While talking to the NGOs on site is useful, any large offer of support should probably be closely coordinated and supported by the local Polish officials. The process could stand to be more centralized and rationalized.
The Polish plan is to move refugees out of the initial arrival areas quickly and into the interior of Poland, and to find options for some in the broader EU. I believe that the greater need than the processing stations will be in Warsaw and the larger Polish cities, where hundreds of thousands of Ukrainian women and children will be living. For those wishing to offer help, I believe that that will be the area where the greatest long-term impact can be made.