Hot meals and kind hugs: Polish welcome for Ukrainian refugees
LWF’s Humanitarian Coordinator shares stories of “heroes and angels” welcoming Ukrainians fleeing from conflict
(LWI) - A hot meal, a place to stay, a welcoming smile, a comforting hug. All along the border between Poland and Ukraine, Allan A. Calma, Global Humanitarian Coordinator for the Lutheran World Federation (LWF) has been witnessing the way countless women and men in Poland have been offering small acts of kindness, compassion and support to those fleeing from the destruction of their homeland.
Calma has spent most of the past month meeting and talking to Ukrainians who have crossed the Polish border, many of them travelling for over a week by car, or on foot when fuel supplies ran out. They told him countless heartbreaking stories of having to leave family members behind. They shared fears that missing relatives may have been trapped by sex traffickers, taking advantage of the chaos at some border crossings.
“I met refugees in all sorts of locations in Poland,” he explains, “in train stations, mass transit or reception centers, basketball courts and exhibition centers, in churches and in peoples’ homes. Most of them were tired, confused and vulnerable, yet somehow still feeling a faint glimmer of hope, despite the hopeless situation that Russia’s war on Ukraine has provoked for them.”
A woman serves food at a soup kitchen for refugees from Ukraine, at the Vyšné Nemecké border crossing between Slovakia and Ukraine. Photo: LWF/Albin Hillert
Almost all the refugees Calma spoke to told him the same two things: “Firstly, they want this war to end so that they can go home and secondly, they are so grateful to the people of Poland who continue to offer whatever they can to support their neighbors in need.” Standing at the border crossings in the freezing cold, Calma says, these numerous Good Samaritans are providing food and drink, shelter and accommodation, or simply words of welcome and support, “ordinary gestures made extraordinary because of the kindness and compassion they express.”
The LWF is among many humanitarian organizations in the region, supporting local churches and aid agencies that are responding to the needs of over three and a half million Ukrainians who have fled the country since the Russian invasion began on 24 February. LWF is scaling up support to its member churches in Poland, Slovakia, Hungary and Romania, as well as providing practical aid, psychosocial support and pastoral care for displaced people who have chosen to remain inside the borders of Ukraine.
We are extremely grateful to the people of Poland who have shown the world what it means to truly welcome the stranger.
“There are so many organizations responding to the crisis,” Calma says, “but it is undeniably clear who the real heroes and angels are in this region. The Polish mother cooking hot meals to serve in a transit center, the little girl sharing her toys with another child who has left everything behind, the pastor who drives to the station at 3am to pick up a Ukrainian family, the people who make up beds in their houses to provide a safe space to stay, the teacher who takes care of children so that exhausted parents can find a few moments of peace.”
Calma concludes: “This war has shown us the worst in human behavior, but it has also highlighted the best in humanity too. All those caught up in the conflict really need our continued support, our solidarity and especially our prayers. We must work together, hand in hand, but we are and should continue to be extremely grateful to the people of Poland who have shown the world what it means to truly welcome the stranger among us.”
LWF's is coordinating a response through its member churches in Ukraine and the neighboring countries to ensure support to Ukrainian refugees as well as their safe and dignified arrival. The work is supported by LWF's funding partners, including the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.