Hunger in Ukraine is ‘becoming a terrible problem’, say volunteers on border

Echo reporter Donal O’Keeffe is travelling to the Ukrainian border with the Cork Penny Dinners humanitarian mission. Read his daily diary reports on www.echolive.ie
Hunger in Ukraine is ‘becoming a terrible problem’, say volunteers on border

The group from Penny Dinners that have travelled to the Poland/Ukraine border, including Caitriona Twomey, Conal Thomas,Echo reporter Donal O'Keeffe ,Leslie O'Sullivan, David Feeney, Tom Kalinauskas and Kieran Coniry. Picture: Eddie O'Hare

“YOU won’t see refugees sleeping in train stations now like you did three months ago, but you have to remember Poland has taken in over 3.5m people,” Pastor Jan Skarbek tells The Echo.

When the first wave of refugees came, he says, Poland struggled to accommodate them, and thousands of people were left waiting in makeshift refugee camps in train stations and other public spaces.

Now, the situation is much more under control, with many refugees staying in reception centres not dissimilar to the type operating in Ireland. Obviously, this is not ideal, he says, but it is better than sleeping in train stations.

Pastor Skarbek is a kindly man in his 50s. He has scarcely a word of English, so his wife Barbara does the translating as she welcomes us to their home in Czarna, about 30 minutes from the city of Tarnów, in southeastern Poland.

Barbara greets us at the door with the traditional offering of bread and salt (chlebem i solą), and soon we are tucking into a delicious late lunch of Polish sausages, kielbasa, which are accompanied by bread and home-grown salad, and the dessert of home-made lemon cake with watermelon is followed by pickled peaches and cherries.

Jan and Barbara take in donations of humanitarian aid, which they distribute to refugee centres along the Ukrainian border, or across the border and into Ukraine.

For the most part, Jan and Barbara say, the Polish government now has a good handle on the refugee situation, but it is inside Ukraine that things are, in some places, dire.

“The Russians have bombed Mariupol into the ground, there is nothing left, and the people there are starving,” Barbara says. “Odessa, they have bombed too, and they are targeting civilians as they always do.

“Hunger is increasingly becoming a terrible problem, and people need help now more than ever.” Several times a week, Jan and Barbara make deliveries of medical supplies and food to the eastern Polish border town of Dołhobyczów, where members of their church then bring those supplies across to the Ukrainian town of Nowowołyńsk.

On Friday, Cork Penny Dinners volunteers Leslie O’Sullivan and Conal Thomas set off for Dołhobyczów in their van, carrying 5t of non-perishable foods, toiletries, medical aid, and baby food. That aid was donated by the people of Cork, and it will go directly to people who desperately need it. As Penny Dinners co-ordinator Caitriona Twomey put it: “That’s the reason we’re out here”.

  • Echo reporter Donal O’Keeffe is travelling to the Ukrainian border with the Cork Penny Dinners humanitarian mission. Read his daily diary reports on www.echolive.ie


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