Surge of solidarity on the Polish border

Standing with arms outstretched over a rusty metal bin filled with embers, Maya, a Ukrainian woman in her 40s, and her 14-year-old daughter try to keep warm. They look lost. “It’s all terrible,” she whispers to me. The West really needs to close Ukrainian airspace to prevent these bombings. »

With a simple suitcase as baggage, they crossed almost all of Ukraine from east to west, from the Poltava region. They then waited several hours in the cold in the middle of the night to finally cross the border on foot to Medica in Poland.

This small border town was the first place since the beginning of the Russian offensive to receive a continuous stream of Ukrainian refugees, almost all women and children. Men between the ages of 18 and 60 can no longer leave the country. The time has come for general mobilization.

Ukrainian refugees arrive in Medica. Photo: Fabrice de Pierrebourg.

Maya leaves behind family members who couldn’t bring themselves to give up everything. Despite bombs and destruction. “My father, my mother and my sister did not want to come with us. They were afraid to go all this way. »

She consoles herself by watching the crowd of volunteers, NGO members or not, who are present at the Medica to greet these castaways in the aftermath of the conflict. “I am very amazed to see all this solidarity. »

As soon as they set foot on Polish soil, the Ukrainians, visibly taken aback, walk along the aisle lined with tents, under which volunteers distribute food, cold and hot drinks, something for changing babies, and even cages for dogs or cats.

Many of these Good Samaritans did not hesitate to quit their jobs and travel around Europe to offer their help. Spontaneously.

This is the case of Paul Brion, deputy mayor of a small town in Normandy, France. “At first I wanted to come by myself to help,” he tells me, holding out a plastic bowl filled with candy to a burning-eyed girl. “Then a friend told me that he would come with me. Then another. And another. Finally, there are 11 of us. We arrived here yesterday in a 55-seat minibus and kilos of donated food from supermarkets in my area. In three days, I also collected a kitten for almost 6,000 euros. I have an ideal, and I still believe in human kindness. »

Next, I meet Susana and her husband Michael. They came from Spain and are now busy serving coffee. With a smile. Universal language, she tells me. “When you are away, it is impossible to understand what is happening here. I am so touched by the children. What they go through… I used to watch a little girl cry. All because someone suddenly decided to destroy everything … ”

Left: Susana, volunteer from Spain. Right: Paul Brionne, deputy mayor of a small French town, volunteers to help greet Ukrainians. Photos: Fabrice de Pierrebourg.

It’s noon now. My turn to cross the border on foot, but in the opposite direction. To Ukraine. I follow an endless line of hundreds of women, children and old people, who move step by step and in complete silence towards Poland.

The fate of their country is in the hands of their army, as well as people like Alexander, 42, who agreed to take me to Lviv, my first stop. This long-distance truck driver, who until the outbreak of the war was a regular service between Ukraine and Poland, now transports boxes of medicines and medical equipment in his minivan and trailer to the front lines.

“I used to work for my boss; I work there for my country,” he says in English. I can ride for hours as long as I have coffee, cigarettes and good music. »

At the entrances to settlements, sandbags and metal crosses are piled up on the roadsides, which should impede the advance of Russian tanks. Ready to install. Nobody knows when.

Ukrainian refugees arrive in Medica. Photo: Fabrice de Pierrebourg.

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