As I wait for my rental car to be fixed, this is a good time to recap the past 24 hours.
It has been a whirlwind of useful information.
The arrival area that I thought would be a large swathe of space is really just a narrow walkway, starting from where the Ukrainian refugees are processed into Poland, ending at the bus stop where they are shuttled to various forwarding centers.
The purely volunteer area is a very small part of the overall journey for these folks. For every useful group present, there’s one useless one. The medical services and water handers are useful. The proselytizers holding vague, patronizing signs (with the same hands that could carry the bags of an elder) and the wannabe soldiers huffing and puffing around are categorically not.
- An elderly woman, frail, with a scared and hollow look in her eyes, carrying what seems like two shopping bags. You take the bags from her. You don’t ask, because these are remarkable strong and stubborn people who won’t accept help if offered, but will tolerate it if it is simply given. These bags are about 40 lbs each. This woman, who weighs less than your legs, has been carrying these bags in her frail hands for miles and miles. These people don’t complain. The news clips from the besieged cities where wives are talking about their diabetic husbands dying without medicine with soft smiles on their faces — whatever the Ukrainian culture teaches about suffering and a stiff upper lip must be extremely effective, to a fault.
- A man made entirely of muscle, followed around by three men of more ordinary physiques. All wearing a hodgepodge of olive green military gear. Mean looks on their faces. Storming up and down the walkway leading from the border crossing to the buses. Scaring people just by their presence and their scowls. The man of muscle goes up to a sweet older lady working at a hot food tent — with brute diction, he asks to borrow a volunteer jacket (the same that would allow him to cross the border). The confused lady hands it over, but comes to her sense when she sees him walking away with it. She asks for it back. The man gives. I don’t see that group the rest of the day.
- A mother who breaks into tears and grateful “spacibos” when offered a small rolling suitcase for her materials.
- A skeevy assistant to a haughty self-appointed camp leader rushing up to a small lost child with his camera, and taking a closeup of her crying face as she asks for her mother. I see the smile on this man’s face as he takes the child’s photo. This is a show for him. There are plenty — plenty — of these voyeurs around here.
My special commendations to various Israeli groups. I will ask today what mobilized so many of them to come and serve. I cannot tell if they are from more left or right leaning groups in that country, and if their service here is affected at all by their crises at home. Also, the Sikh chefs, the French firemen and medics, the German veterinarians, the Polish Red Cross, and the Americans who are quietly — almost invisibly — bettering the place. A North Carolinian making wheelchair ramps. An Idahoan finding the kids most in need and offering candy and kind words.
There are other observations, but they are mine alone for now.
I had those questions yesterday. Here’s where I stand:
- Just how bad is it? And what kind of bad is it? The badness is on the other side of the border crossing. The Poles on this side have been tremendous in their response. It’s the miles of lines on the other side, not to mention the escalating war, that are the concern. At this moment, I am under the impression that once an Ukrainian can make it past the border crossing, they are on a reliable path to safety and some part of healing.
- What are the problems to be solved? There are many. The ones I will focus on are going to be listed below.
- Can I help solve them? Absolutely. A small thing comes to mind. A group of volunteers — all good people — were stacking boxes in a cart yesterday. They were doing it with gusto. None noticed that a slight adjustment in the arrangement of boxes would allow them to take about 50% more in one trip, with minimal added effort, except me. That’s what I do. It’s where I feel most useful. If I can combine that with decency and courtesy towards others, I can absolutely help in solving some of the problems I’ve identified so far, and the others to come.
Things to do today:
- Test and write up a quick proposal for the AirTags plan. It’s simple. It has some potential pitfalls. But it’s safe to assume that children are being trafficked from this crises as we speak, and this would be a powerful tool against it. The general lack of organization at the walkway, exemplified by the sheer power given to any bloke in a high-vis jacket, is extremely concerning. A human trafficker with half a brain is having a field day out there.
- Contact all necessary parties to get the synagogue activated. I checked it out yesterday and today. It’s barren, used as a parking lot by a handful of locals. I considered if this space in particular is needed, beyond its powerful symbolism. Hearing from volunteers, there is a need for space in general, but why this? Why not one of the commercial/warehouse spaces in and around the town? I came to a positive answer because of this: the proximity to the Przemysl train station. This war will get worse. The Russians are using phosphorous weapons now. Many of those people that are hiding in train stations and scattered across the country will likely eventually have to make the trek west. An organizer said that around three million internally displaced people are now gathered in Lviv, just two hours from the border by car. It’s a mess. And the coming waves of people are going to be only more and more desperate. There isn’t an off switch to this conflict. It’s a burning building that will have to be waited out. Having this large facility two blocks from the town’s main train station will be helpful now, and a godsend down the road.
- Hire a Polish translator. I get the feeling that my time and energy will be much better used if I’m constantly facing the language barrier I have now. The above two plans will require clear communication of complex ideas, and that can be well served by a hired translator. Time is of the essence, so I should make the moves now.
Things to put on the backburner.
- The medyka.org website. As much as I like a good website, the same can be achieved with a printed one-sheet at the moment. The walkway from the crossing to the buses is not that long, and would benefit more from better signage than an online tool.
The car repair folks should be arriving shortly. Przemysl is beautiful, the coffee shop nearby is small but solid, and there’s a corner store chain that sells those bread-pocket hot dogs I really like. I am irrevocably grateful that I have the freedom to live my life how I’d like, a right denied to these thousands arriving each day.