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01 Jul 2022

IN PICTURES: Laois Polish journalist shows life for Ukraine refugees on Poland border

Experienced Polish journalist and certified war correspondent Renata Metelicka now lives in Laois, but returned to Poland recently to help Ukrainian refugees fleeing for their lives from the Russian attack.

In Portlaoise Renata now has an advertising and filmmaking business. She is deeply involved in many community roles. She helps run the Portlaoise Day website with friends, teaches children in Polish schools every day and is gradually starting the Midlands Internet TV project.

She has also worked with the team on the Polish TV "Info Desk". She is involved in Laois Integration Network, founded the POLaois Support Group with her colleagues, works with Rotary Portlaoise on a permanent basis, and for several years made posters for the Downtown Portlaoise Christmas market to support it. 

Renata felt obliged to travel back to the Poland Ukraine border and has written a firsthand account of the situation for Ukraine people crossing into Poland, taking the accompanying photographs. 

She shares her account and her fears for the future with the Leinster Express. 

"I couldn't be indifferent to what happened in Ukraine. Anyway, probably like each of us.

"In Poland, I have many friends and acquaintances in the army, so I was able to watch what is happening on the entire eastern border of Poland as well as the EU and NATO. Both on the military and human side. I saw a lot of armed soldiers guarding the border, a lot of military equipment from Poland, America and England. I saw people breaking through to Poland, waiting in long lines at the border, frozen, desperate, scared. Usually one bag - that was all they had. Then I saw these people in the refugee centers, lying on camp beds, crying, frozen in pain. I saw children drawing war pictures, missing their fathers who were left to fight. I did not know what to say when, for example, Olga from Donetsk asked: "How am I supposed to live now, when I have lost everything? I have three children, my husband is fighting at the front and I am in a foreign country where I do not know anyone.

Tomasz Kuczborski, the director of one of the refugee centers in Warsaw, cried when he told me about these people, and I cried with him.

"They are so quiet and modest," he said, "they don't take more than they need to suffice for other refugees. For example, a pair of socks, a T-shirt. You can see that they are broken, because many of them have seen their houses burn, their loved ones. are dying. Their poor children don't know what's going on. "

"The director said that the help desks are filling up very quickly, because 2,000 people arrive by only one train and, for example, during one night they have to prepare more places for them, because they do not fit in the current places. All my friends welcomed refugees from Ukraine into their homes. My family too. Volunteers often stay awake for hours or even nights.

"At the moment, in the streets of Warsaw, where many refugees come straight from the border, Ukrainian is heard all around. Gifts for Ukraine and money are collected everywhere. In shops, offices, cinemas, shopping centers. Hospitals accept patients directly from Ukrainian cancer hospitals and ordinary people help as volunteers. There are also protests against the war. Last Sunday in Warsaw, the anti-war march lasted 7 hours.

"In Poland, you can feel general anxiety, in the subway, in trams and restaurants, everyone talks about the war. They are afraid. They're scrolling their phones all the time. In the cities on the eastern border, people are getting ready for the Third World War, stocking up, buying fuel. There is often a shortage of fuel at stations in these areas.

"I also helped civilians, and my daughter and I tried to bring as many people from Ukraine as possible, I was active in a shelter for refugees, but I also know that it is not only the escaping Ukrainians who need help. Those who stayed in Ukraine and took up arms also need it. Ordinary people: men and women. Many of them have never used weapons before, they are just learning. And they don't have bulletproof vests, bandage helmets, thermal clothes. Their feet are bleeding in their shoes. The world must help them, we all must. Because they are defending those who stayed in Ukraine and they cannot fight, that is children, the elderly.

"I am Polish, but now I also feel Ukrainian! I feel that Putin has also destroyed my world and my peace. I have nightmares of war again, killed people I saw in the wars. My family does not feel safe and the whole world should not feel safe because we are blackmailed by a madman.

"I am afraid that people will get bored with the topic of war and forget about Ukraine. And in my opinion, everyone now has a moral obligation to protest against Putin's aggression, we cannot stop helping Ukrainians, countries should accept them, because war is a nightmare. Believe me, I know what I'm talking about. The fact that there is no war in other countries now does not mean that it will always be so. Let's remember about it! I am touched that my friends at LIN are organizing such a beautiful aid campaign that the people of Portlaoise have reacted so strongly to the request for support for the Portlaoise Day and Polish School fundraising. The Ukrainians with whom I talked ask me to thank everyone.

"I didn't record them and I didn't take portraits of them (and I love to do it) out of respect for them. They are ashamed, they know they should talk, but they feel bad about it, like dolls in a shop window. They are lost and will not quickly forget the nightmare. Especially since the war is still going on and getting more and more bloody ....

"I would like to ask people once again to remember about those who stayed in Ukraine.  They are heroes - they defend civilians but they lack everything: knee pads, military clothes, goggles, boots, helmets.  if as a world we cannot help militarily, let us help as ordinary people!  The Ukrainians with whom I talked tell me the same: "Thank you for clothes, toys and other things, but we want to return to our country, so we are begging you, help those who are fighting for our country, help civilians with weapons in their hands.

"In my photos, many Ukrainians are looking at their phones ... they are trying all the time to call those who stayed in Ukraine, those who are fighting there: father, sons, brothers, sisters, mothers."

Renata Metelicka will speak at a vigil for Ukraine in Portlaoise on Tuesday, March 8 at 6pm at Laois County Council offices. 

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