POLAND: Ukrainian refugee shares her family’s story
Salesian programs provide support, shelter and care for Ukrainian refugees
(MissionNewswire) Salesians in Poland have been caring for Ukrainian refugees since the start of the war. Since the start of the war, more than 11 million people have crossed the border between Ukraine and Poland with close to 1.6 million refugees remaining in the country.
Yulia, a Ukrainian mother with two daughters, was one among many people who sought the care and safety of the Salesians. She explained her circumstances, “On Feb. 24, 2022, my life, the lives of my family members and a great many Ukrainians were tragically changed. A terrible war was being brought to our country. We each had our plans for that day, but nothing went as planned.”
Yulia has many memories of that time — from the president’s speech introducing martial law to seeing images of the first missiles falling on the country. Her family was her only focus. “I thought first about going to the store. At that moment, the most important thing seemed to be finding food. Meanwhile, the continuous stream of news about the war did not allow me to calm down, and the sound of sirens and alarms seemed to echo continuously inside my head. I didn’t know what to do, but I had quite a responsibility with my two daughters and an elderly parent with many ailments.”
The family was forced to live in cold basements with neighbors and animals to protect themselves from the bombing. They heard the planes and the bombing. “You just don’t know if this latest noise will be the end for your family,” she said. Surrounded by a destroyed school, a hospital with broken windows, and mutilated buildings all around them, Yulia constantly received advice about an escape. “Yet inside you feel a strong resistance, because you don’t want to leave,” she added.
Then on the evening of March 8, 2022, a colleague she holds in high esteem called her on the phone and said, “Yulia, you are going to Poland tomorrow with your family. I’m not asking if you want to, but I’m telling you; you’re going.”
Thanks to the Salesians working at the local school, Yulia finally left Ukraine and arrived in Poland the next day. Yulia said, “They told us to calm down and that we were safe. I felt like I can breathe a sigh of relief at last, but it is only external calm. In our hearts there is war.”
The transition has been difficult and she still has many challenges ahead. She explained what her forced exile meant to her now. “When you leave your home, you miss the little things that are just yours. You miss your children’s favorite toy, your favorite homemade dress, and you miss your own mess, which is sometimes made by children. You miss your relatives, friends, colleagues and work terribly. And I was afraid to call or write messages. I was afraid that if they didn’t answer the call or message, it would mean something terrible.”
Salesian missionaries in Poland and bordering countries have been providing shelter and support to refugees since the start of the Russian invasion in March 2022. The Salesian houses in the Warsaw province have the capacity to provide for up to 370 refugees.
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