CBSS-led team of civil protection experts visits the Polish-Ukrainian border in a bid to a assess the Ukrainian refugee crisis 

In a bid to better understand the challenges faced by Polish authorities responding to the Ukrainian refugee crisis, an international delegation, of which the CBSS was part, travelled to several Polish cities including Warsaw and Przemyśl on 10-12 May 2022.

Organized by the Polish State Fire Service at the request of the CBSS Civil Protection Network (CPN), the study visit allowed fourteen experts in the fields of civil protection, evacuation and international cooperation from six Baltic Sea countries to get firsthand impressions on the refugee crisis in Poland, especially at the Polish-Ukrainian border.

“For Poland, the experiences of recent months have shown to have many dimensions,” said Adam Konieczny, the Deputy Chief of the State Fire Service, in his welcoming speech at the headquarters in Warsaw. “We are dealing with a migration crisis – in the first month of which more refugees came to Poland than to the entire EU during the crisis of 2015.”

“We are also coordinating deliveries of rescue equipment from Poland and other countries to our Ukrainian colleagues. At the same time, we need to increase our preparedness for potential external threats,” Konieczny added.

In the Podkarpackie and Lubelskie Voivodeships, or districts, the experts were able to witness the situation at the border crossings, reception points, shelters, children’s rooms and kitchens. They were also able to interview some of the people behind the unprecedented humanitarian effort that is currently taking place since the beginning of the war in Ukraine.

At the Przemyśl train station near the Ukrainian border, the international team also had the chance to trace, step by step, the journey of refugees fleeing from the war. On arrival in Poland, after exiting the overcrowded trains coming from Ukraine, the refugees received warm food prepared by the volunteers from World Central Kitchen and were guided to a warm shelter.

Mothers received basic childcare necessities such as baby prams and diapers, while people with disabilities were given wheelchairs. The volunteers also welcomed pets, feeding and vaccinating them on the spot. Medical and psychological help was also available at the train station, while Polish mobile network providers gave away free SIM cards.

“Our services all acted as one, keeping the situation under control,” said Radosław Wiatr, the Deputy Governor of Rzeszów, in his address to the CPN delegation, commenting on the collaboration between the various services, including the fire service, police, border guard, territorial defense and other organizations such as UNHCR, UNICEF, Caritas Polska and the Union of Ukrainians in Poland. An estimated 300,000 refugees passed through the station during the first weeks of the war.

1.7 million refugees from Ukraine crossed to Poland in the first two weeks after the Russian aggression in Ukraine. The busiest in Podkarpackie Voivodeship was the border crossing point of Medyka, which was another point of interest for the delegation. In Medyka, special measures had to be put in place to be able to cope with an influx of almost 100 people per hour during peak crossings.

The delegation also visited the Polish Government Centre for Strategic Reserves and its storage facility through which the majority of humanitarian help to Ukraine is transiting, and the local Emergency Notification Center in Lublin. 

“I can assure you that the knowledge obtained during this study visit will be put to good use, in order to ensure that the Baltic Sea region stays safe and secure,” commented Grzegorz Poznanski, the Director General of the CBSS, further thanking the State Fire Service of Poland and the Polish CPN colleagues for a well-organized study visit. 

The delegation comprised experts from Finland, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Sweden and Norway, as well as from the CBSS Secretariat.