LWF fact-finding visit to Polish-Ukrainian border

The vast majority of refugees fleeing across the Ukrainian border into Poland are women and children, including this mother and her young son. Photo: Filip Błażejowski
The vast majority of refugees fleeing across the Ukrainian border into Poland are women and children, including this mother and her young son. Photo: Filip Błażejowski

Generosity of volunteers gives hope alongside concern for exploitation of vulnerable mothers and children

(LWI) - Despite a long career in humanitarian work, Rebekka Meissner was deeply touched by the scenes she witnessed at the Polish-Ukrainian border crossings she visited during a recent fact-finding visit for the Lutheran World Federation (LWF). What moved her most, she says, was the “long lines of very tired, exhausted and incredibly sad women, a few grandmothers but mostly mothers with young children, being met by the generosity and enthusiasm of volunteers offering help to them.”

support people and churches of Ukraine

Meissner, LWF’s Program Executive for Member Church Projects, spent four days in Poland, visiting Warsaw and the border areas where the UN says over 1.8 million Ukrainians have already fled to escape from the Russian invasion of their country. She travelled on the 3-6 March visit with Mr. Chey Mattner, LWF's Head of Operations, and Rev. Dr Ireneusz Lukas, Regional Secretary for Europe, to express solidarity, assess the needs of refugees and understand how to best support the local Evangelical Church of the Augsburg Confession in Poland (ECACP) as it responds to the unfolding crisis.

Meissner and her colleagues visited two of Poland’s seven border crossings, witnessing firsthand the “well-meaning yet often chaotic” response of people offering help and hospitality to the refugees. “There is a high risk that some people who are opportunists, predators, see this as a real potential for them, because you have women-headed households who are extremely vulnerable, extremely tired and just want to be taken to somewhere safer,” says Mattner. Providing registered transport and finding safe spaces for them, through churches and other organizations, is a top priority in the country right now, he says.

Protection, pastoral care and psychosocial support

In response to the risk of trafficking and exploitation, LWF is working with the UN’s High Commission for Refugees to set up registration points where refugees can collect cash distribution cards, but also be referred for protection and psychosocial care to help them deal with the trauma they have suffered. Another immediate concern, Meissner says, is the number of people living with disabilities who are fleeing from the fighting and require specialized support that may not be readily available in their host communities.

Noting that the vast majority of refugees are women with children, she says there will also be a longer-term need for education and child care provided by Ukrainian language speakers. “Those who have already found a place to stay in Poland could be trained as educators, providing a sense of purpose and preventing negative coping mechanisms,” she adds. Another way in which churches will be able to play a key role is by providing pastoral care to those seeking spiritual support and LWF will be consulting with member churches to provide training, resources or other forms of capacity strengthening, she adds.

The needs are immense, and it is urgent that we all keep praying for peace and keep donating whatever money we can to support a coordinated response to this crisis
Rebekka Meissner, LWF Program Executive for Member Church Projects

The ECACP church is the largest Protestant denomination in Poland with 63,000 members making up 133 parishes spread across the country. Its diaconal arm, Diakonia Poland, with staff and resources stretched by the current crisis, is seeking to scale up its response to the refugees. “Exploring closer cooperation with the majority Roman Catholic church is also a priority,” says Mattner, “in order to avoid duplication and provide more coordinated services for those most in need.” He also points to the role that churches and faith-based organizations can play in protecting the rights of non-Ukrainian nationals who are fleeing from the country, but are being discriminated and abused as they seek to cross to safety in the west.

Meissner says she was encouraged to see the generous response of so many Polish people, keen to open their doors to welcome families who have lost everything in the Russian attacks on their towns and cities. “The needs are immense,” she concludes “and it is urgent that we all keep praying for peace and keep donating whatever money we can to support a coordinated response to this crisis."

LWF/P. Hitchen

 

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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.

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