Rotary members in Poland provide a safe home for Ukrainian refugees
In March, shortly after Russia launched its invasion of Ukraine, refugees began arriving at a home in Wojciechów, a town about 20 miles from the city of Lublin in eastern Poland.
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Janusz Milanowski, a member of the Rotary Club of Lublin-Centrum-Maria Curie-Sklodowska, and his wife, Katarzyna Szmygin-Milanowska, had purchased the house in 2021 with the intention of turning it into a center for teenagers struggling with addiction. But with thousands of refugees from Ukraine needing a place to stay, the couple decided to open the home to them instead.
Natalia Prokhor arrived in Poland in early March. She’s one of 17 deaf Ukrainians who were brought together by relief agencies to live in the house along with other refugees — 29 in total.
This was not the first time that Prokhor, who grew up in the Luhansk region of eastern Ukraine, has had to leave her home. She and her mother fled to Kyiv when Russian troops occupied parts of Ukraine’s Donbas region in 2014. “I couldn’t believe that my family would again have to fight for their lives,” she says. “It was like a terrible dream.”
Prokhor says she is thankful that her family is safe, but adds that because it’s often more difficult for deaf people to find work, she hopes to be able to return to Ukraine soon.
At the house, trained interpreters are sometimes available to translate from Ukrainian sign language to Polish sign language. When no interpreters are present, the Ukrainians and their Polish hosts use an online translator. “We talk a lot,” Milanowski says .
In April, refugees and Rotary members gathered at the house to celebrate Easter, some speaking in sign language as they passed food and other celebratory offerings around the table. Decorations included eggs dyed red and white to represent Poland and blue and yellow for Ukraine. The feast was more restrained than traditional Easter celebrations in solidarity with people’s relatives who were still in Ukraine, some of whom lacked food, water, or electricity.
Before the refugees arrived, members of the Rotary club furnished the house, and they continue to raise funds and manage day-to-day operations. The club also sent aid across the border to help about 40 people in Ukraine and worked with District 7870 in New Hampshire and Vermont, USA, to donate medical equipment worth $317,000 to a field hospital in Ukraine.
Dorota Wcisła contributed to this story.