A week after the Russian army invaded Ukraine, members of the Indigo team went to two main hotspots in Poland and Slovakia to begin gathering information to coordinate efforts and support grassroots initiatives.
Please see below some updates - it is important to note that due to the rapidly changing situation on the ground, much of the information shared below may soon be out of date.
Update from the Ukrainian borders
Latest UNCHR update from March 31.
The UN says more than 4 million people, mostly women and children, fled Ukraine since the Russian army invaded. Most sought refuge in neighbouring countries.
The current prediction is that at least 5 million people will leave Ukraine, from a population of more than 44 million people. The map below shows the distribution of refugees to neighbouring countries.
The Polish refugee response
The government's reception points that we visited are located in large venues and provide basic shelter, food, water, non-food items and registration desks for people to arrange further transportation. The police and military are present and work alongside volunteers of different international and local NGOs. The Polish Red Cross is taking the lead on medical care. All reception centres were incredibly crowded, but seemed to be managed effectively by the authorities and up to hundreds of local volunteers. The response seems to be almost fully run by Polish or Ukrainian-speaking locals and there is no big international NGO presence yet.
The Slovakian refugee response
Several local humanitarian organisations are present at Vyšné-Nemecké - one of the Slovakian hotspots. They are formally coordinated by the Health Ministry, as are all responding NGOs in Slovakia. People who want to volunteer at any of the hotspots should register at the ministry via firstname.lastname@example.org. Additional volunteers are welcome if they register at the Health Ministry, however how this registration is coordinated remains unclear. It is vital for incoming volunteers to speak either Slovakian or Ukrainian.
Transportation & Human Trafficking
As most men are forced to stay and fight for Ukraine, refugee families consist mainly of women and children. Local NGOs have shared concerns about the risk of human trafficking, especially given the many voluntary drivers offering to take vulnerable people away from the border and into private accommodation.
Salam Lab, an NGO in Krakow, have set up a helpline to support refugees who struggle to cross the Ukrainian-Polish border and help people with accommodation and their journey onwards. Their current focus is on creating a safe transportation network to protect refugees against human trafficking and they have set up a website to register drivers: transporterua.com.
Aid into Ukraine
We witnessed several humanitarian convoys and vans actively collecting donations from different individuals before taking it across the border. If you want to support aid-delivery efforts we suggest contacting initiatives in the area you live in, or consulting one of the collection points along the border. You can stay updated on aid needs through the Frontline.live map or by following Sunflower Relief for updates on supplies needed.
The situation for non-Ukrainian refugees, particularly people of colour, remains unclear. Minority groups do often seem to be discriminated against and treated separately, regardless of their legal status.
How to help
Here are some ways you can help.
1) Host Ukrainian refugees
2) Volunteer remotely with Indigo
The Indigo team is looking for a volunteer to help us identify valuable information and updates being circulated across media accounts and chats coordinating the humanitarian response. We are looking for an individual who will support us remotely for a few hours each week in collecting and sharing this information.
- Location: Remote (anywhere in Europe)
- Languages: English (Ukrainian and/or Russian are a plus)
- Hours: 5 hours/week
If you are interested, please apply below indicating your interest in this role.
3) Stay put
Volunteering - The sites we visited showed no real need for international volunteers or NGOs to get involved at this moment in time. Whether that will be the case in the future remains uncertain - please keep an eye out on our social media for further updates on volunteering, or sign up to volunteer with one of our 40+ partners in Greece, France, Lebanon, Serbia, Bosnia & Herzegovina, and Cyprus. They too are in urgent need of your support!
Aid - At the time of our visit, there was no shortage of food, clothes or non-food items at the borders. We saw big overflows of clothing and toys piling up near roads and reception points, which is the result of aid not being coordinated or sent to the right place at the right time. With the war worsening and many more people on the move, the need for aid is likely to explode in the coming weeks. You can stay updated on aid needs through the Frontline.live map or by following Sunflower Relief for updates on needed supplies.
Language - In order to meaningfully support local initiatives, knowledge of either Polish or Ukrainian is vital. Exceptions for this exist if you are an expert in some humanitarian field, in which case you are able to assist groups with building knowledge and capacity.
Transportation - Due to the influx of journalists and aid workers there is a severe shortage of rental cars and vans in the big cities of Eastern Poland.
Accommodation - Finding accommodation has proven difficult as well, as most hotels, hostels and AirBnB's are taken by refugees from Ukraine and local volunteers travelling to the hotspots to support. Expect to pay premium prices for accommodation if you want to stay in the wider Ukrainian border area - also in other receiving countries!
The longer term picture - Most local volunteers and aid workers that we spoke to were worried about the lack of capacity and experience with migration issues in Poland. Whilst most refugees are being hosted generously by the local population, the question is whether the country will be able to organise sufficient long term support. It seems that most Ukrainian refugees will want to stay in Poland until the war is over. This means that Poland might face a massive amount of people in need of a proper asylum procedure, long term housing, work opportunities, and access to education, health care and psycho-social support. The Polish health care system in particular might be under severe pressure soon. Therefore, please stay put as your help and support may be hugely needed in the coming weeks and months.
To be informed about about volunteer opportunities and other ways you can help, please sign up below.
Want to volunteer now?
Our wonderful partners in France, Greece, Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Lebanon are continuing to help refugees and all need volunteers! We strongly urge you to consider volunteering at any of the places listed on our website.
What became clear through this visit along the Polish and Slovakian borders of Ukraine is that the response in both countries has only just started. With the war in Ukraine taking a turn for the worse and the international humanitarian sector getting ready to move in, the situation on the ground might look very different in the near future.
Continued monitoring and mapping will certainly be needed to keep track of the crisis and ensure that we are able to respond to gaps and escalations when they occur.