Diaries from Przemysl: Part Two

Date Published: 14.06.2022

During March-April 2022, Wadham lecturer in Russian translated at a train station 10km from the Polish-Ukrainian border.

The outside of the Tesco, the main refugee centre in Przemysl

Adapted from Pany's April 1 letter back to the UK

Every day, two tricky questions:

How many people will enter Przemysl?

How will the system here receive them?

Pany explains what makes answering the first difficult:

“It very much depends on how many Russian bombs are dropped, and on which locations.”

The second is difficult because “the system” changes by the day. How people enter the town, where they can sleep, the amount of transport available from Medyka to Przemysl – it’s all up for grabs.

The main refugee camp in town is a repurposed Tesco. “Today, we were informed that the sleeping capacity at Tesco would be halved,” he writes. “No explanation for this was given.” The result was more people trying to sleep at the train station but with no extra capacity for them. “We’re working in a constant state of uncertainty and instability,” Pany writes.

But something else stands out that day: “there is a visible increase in the amount of people returning to Ukraine.” Some want to go back to relatives left behind. Others had bad experiences abroad with host families. Others say that life is expensive away from Ukraine and worry about paying rent. Still others “just say they want to go home.” No further explanation given.

The inside of the main sleeping area in the Tesco.

In his letter, Pany distinguishes between two waves of displaced people. The first wave occurred immediately after the commencement of military action by Russia. Those in the second wave have been arriving in Przemysl about 3-4 weeks after the bombs started falling on their country. “They have seen horrors those in the first wave never saw” and come from towns and cities known to all: Mariupol, Irpin, Kharkiv, Dnipro, Melitopol, Mykolaiv. “People entering Poland from Ukraine look more and more traumatised and pale by the day.”

“People entering Poland from Ukraine look more and more traumatised and pale by the day.”

Mariupol is a city that keeps getting recalled in conversations with those arriving from Ukraine, Pany notes. It is acting as a constant reminder of what could happen to their towns. Many say things like: ‘we could end up living like those in Mariupol’ or ‘look at the way they’re killing people in Mariupol.’ “Mariupol is a metonym for Hell for all those who mention it.”

Pany met a family who had come from Mariupol: three adults and a young boy. They told him they got to Poland via a humanitarian corridor. “The boy explained that there is some luck involved in getting out of the town. He explained how he witnessed soldiers shooting at cars and vehicles passing through this corridor.”

Przemysl continues to be in dire need of Ukrainian/Russian speakers, Pany writes. “The most important thing now is for Ukrainian and Russian speakers to help volunteer their language skills in any city or town where there are refugee centres.”

Just that day Pany spent two hours translating and explaining to a young mother and son how to get to Hannover. “They were very shaken by their journey to Poland,” he said.

Part 3 coming soon…

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