No need to speak the language

Updated: Mar 28

Very early this morning, Marcin and Wojciech came back from Lviv. They returned from a mission delivering essentials including urgently needed supplies for emergency surgeries. They describe the situation in Lviv right now as “normal”. During their 48 hours stay they could sleep without being woken up by sirens. They said they felt they had landed in a parallel universe. The locals told them the eerie quiet was the calm before the storm they are expecting.

Marcin and Wojciech brought two families back with them out of Ukraine. One of the families was composed of a young girl of 17 years, her 15-year-old brother, their mother and their cat. They had been walking for days before they reached Lviv. There they met Marcin and Wojciech in the street and asked if they could help them reaching the border.

The girl has recently been diagnosed with lymphoma. She’s going to need more scans and a lumbar puncture. On arrival in Poland, they had no plan, no idea where to get the treatment done. All migrants crossing the border need help. This family more than most.

All we could offer them was temporary accommodation at the house we have recently been given. It’s nowhere near ready to receive people for any length of time. There’s still some emergency repairs that need be done to be even reasonably comfortable. They asked to check it out, see if they could use it as a temporary “base” while we help them find the treatment they need elsewhere in Poland. My colleagues drove mother and daughter to the house so they get an idea of what we were offering.

The young lad stayed with me, his cat, about as confused and scared as his master, the only company that speaks his language. He cried. I cried. We hugged. He would have understood me if I told him everything would be ok. But I couldn’t say it. How could I be sure?

Later I met another family. A family of 2, mother and daughter who had escaped from their home town of Kulikyvka. If you look at the map you will understand why they had to leave. Kulikyvka is half way between Belarus and Kharkiv – one of the most heavily bombed cities of Ukraine, on the path of the Belarusian arm of this invasion. They told me 90% of the houses in their home town have been damaged. Much of the city is altogether destroyed.

While they waited, the daughter, 15, got news from 2 of her friends over the Messenger App. One friend was still in Ukraine, looking for a way out. The other friend had reached Berlin a few days before.

We learnt that the next bus out of our “base” was about to leave for Spain. They decided to take it. They would have taken the first ride out wherever it would have gone. Through Google Translate and gestures I understood that all they knew was that they were going to Spain with little idea of where Spain is, and no idea where in Spain they would end up.

I speak a smattering of Spanish and spoke to the driver who agreed to take them on. He had got to Lublin after a 3,000 km drive, 29 hours on the road carrying a shipment of rice and other urgent supplies. The destination homeward for him and his passengers was to be Madrid. I explained to my new Ukrainian friends where Spain is on the map, and where in Spain Madrid lies.

It was far but they looked happy with the news. For the first time in weeks, they had a destination. There would be somewhere on their long uncertain journey where they could put their bags down and close their eyes.

It’s not all dark here. We get warm spring spells that lift spirits. Perhaps nothing lift spirits higher than an improvised game of football in the street. The boys, volunteers and refugees, lived 10 minutes of relative normality kicking a ball around.

Another shipment sets out tonight. It is going to one of the most impacted cities inside Ukraine delivering the body bags we received yesterday.

It is good to support the families crossing the border, but sending teddy bears is not enough.

There is an urgent need for medical supplies, first-aid and medical emergency kits, wheelchairs, that sort of thing. If you know any suppliers who may be willing to help, please contact Fundacja Zmieniamy Życie.

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