On Saturday morning I was standing just a few centimeters from the Polish-Russian border. Behind the checkpoint was the Russian coastal enclave of Kaliningrad, home to the Russian Baltic Fleet.
Normally a thriving intersection with thousands of vehicles passing through, it was eerily quiet. Even without the picking wind, it was a chilling moment to see the eyes of Putin’s border guards as his military continues to commit appalling acts in Ukraine.
This was the first part of Project Maja, a social action project I took part in along with MPs and others to help Ukrainian refugee children in Poland. A short drive from the border, it moved to meet families hosted by Caritas, a Catholic charity.
The generosity of care and hospitality offered to the Ukrainian refugees was humbling. Listening to them, the impact and trauma of fleeing war was obvious, and the homeland songs they sang were incredibly moving.
Poland has granted refuge to over 2.5 million Ukrainians. The governor of the Pomeranian Voivodeship said that over 60,000 refugees, mainly women and children, are being supported, most of whom are housed in private homes in his region. Others are accommodated in student housing or other locations and supported with education, jobs and financial support.
The focus of this project was the construction of a playground for a Ukrainian orphanage that has moved to Koscierzyna. The children we met were orphans, had learning disabilities, or were looked after children who fled to safety with their caregivers and teachers.
This project was made possible thanks to the support of the Amir Khan Foundation, the non-profit organization of the two-time world boxing champion. It was a sign of Amir’s commitment that he was by our side to dig the earth and help install the equipment. When the work was finished it was nice to see the kids enjoying it – laughing and playing.
One of the reasons we focused on this visit was the desire of the Poles we met to share the examples of their generosity and to highlight the scale of the refugee crisis they are facing. We should do everything in our power to support Poland and other neighboring countries, which are hosting so many refugees who want to stay close to Ukraine – if they want to come to the UK, the target of 48 hours for applications to be approved must be met be reached as soon as possible. And it’s about telling the stories of the refugees and showing solidarity with them. As one of the local government officials we met said, besides taking refuge, they need to know they are not alone.
For this reason, the Prime Minister’s visit to Kyiv to meet President Zelenskyy was an important moment to show that the UK remains at the side of Ukraine. Along with other financial support, the new package of armored vehicles, anti-ship missiles and other equipment will help Ukrainians defend themselves.
While the refugees we met and listened to during the project were safe and received a very warm welcome from the Polish people, they want the war and destruction to end and a man, woman and child longing to go home can return.