Strona główna/EASTERN EUROPE. Why did it work?

EASTERN EUROPE. Why did it work?

Author: Marcin Skrzypek
Translation: Wiktoria Nowak, Barbara Zielonka

Why did it work? Narratives of Lublin assistance to refugees from Ukraine

Humanitarian aid for Ukraine in Lublin described by its organisers. Where did it come from and how did it start? First hours, days, and weeks. Joys and sorrows. Previous circumstances that helped us to take effective action. Facts from reports and personal afterthoughts.

What has succeeded?

Word is that beginnings are always difficult. They are also difficult to describe. There is too much happening then at once on a small scale considering what we are used to. Our idea of the normal sequence of events is built by facts, significant and permanent changes, rather than by small episodes, fast sequences of uncertain temporary states that often result from previous actions or favourable circumstances. But that is exactly what the beginnings are. Although in fact it is them that decide about everything that happens next, the first steps always hide in the shadow of milestones.

On Thursday, February 24, I was outside Lublin. On Sunday, I already found Mrs Irina, her daughters – Vika and Katia, and her grandson Tymoszek in my house. They were brought to us by a Ukrainian volunteer-assistant, on whose further help we could count on if necessary. It was my personal milestone. That it was achieved was possible due to the fact that within two days from the outbreak of the war against Ukraine, the Google base of home-sharing and support system for hosts were created in Lublin, and my wife knew she could count on our family’s full acceptance of her action. And this was only a minor segment of the humanitarian care system of the Lublin Social Committee to Aid Ukraine, which was already operating at full steam. And there were more institutional and private systems like this Committee in Lublin itself, such as one at 5 Liliowa Street, not counting each individual that declared in social media their willingness to help.

By April, 1,200,000 Ukrainian citizens stayed in Lublin, a town with a population of 320,000, of whom 138,000 spent at least one night in the city. At the end of March, they accounted for 17% of the residents of Lublin (68,000 people). The Lublin Social Committee to Aid Ukraine itself accommodated 1,668 people (531 families) within three months, and its municipal hotline answered 14,670 phone calls. 39,500 packages of durable food were delivered. 80 lorries and 68 other means of transport carrying humanitarian aid were sent to Ukraine. Furthermore, the Committee ran 14 intervention accommodation centres with around 1,500 beds, which provided over 102,500 overnight stays and 150,000 meals by April. With the support of the Committee, 1,196 Ukrainian citizens were hired by Lublin employers, including 64 teachers and educators in 41 schools

For more information, see:

These are the facts but how did it all happen? I conducted the following conversations in order to preserve these first steps, to document this very moment of the dawn of social humanitarian aid for Ukraine in Lublin, to save it from being forgotten. But there was also more important reason. These actions are an example of the society’s ability to solve serious public problems, which appears to outshine the capability of various offices, services and other agencies appointed for this purpose for the public money. It is essential to look at what and then how was done then, in order to learn it and be able to do it completely consciously when it is necessary again.

My interlocutors were: Rafał “Koza” Koziński, director of the Centre for Culture in Lublin, Piotr Skrzypczak from the Homo Faber Association, which co-created the Lublin Social Committee to Aid Ukraine, and Olga, Łukasz and Marcin from a grassroots, informal assistance-centre for refugees at 5 Liliowa Street. Conversations took place respectively on 12, 14, and 26 April 2022, that is about one and a half month after the outbreak of war. At first, they were supposed to be only the source of information for a press article about the assistance given to Ukrainian refugees in Lublin, but it turned out that the conversations are on its own the source of knowledge that the article cannot impart. It is a kind of knowledge that appears through storytelling, living narration, and only in this form can it be properly assimilated. Ultimately, two texts were created: the commentaries below and an article “About how Lublin’s social capital paid dividends to Ukrainian refugees”, which is their comprehensive complement.

Why did it work?

Rafał “Koza” [goat] Koziński (managing director of the Centre for Culture in Lublin): For a banal reason: Lublin has always had some connections with Ukraine. Environmental foundation is great in here. Different cultural and social backgrounds, institutions, and NGOs have been doing projects with or for Ukrainians for years. Besides, a lot of socially active people are of Ukrainian origin or are Ukrainians, including the officials of the Lublin City Office. Myself, I am married to a wife with Ukrainian roots and I spent so many days in Ukraine that if I had gathered them together, it would have been almost a year.

That’s reason number one. Two, one of such NGOs, the Homo Faber Association, which has been operating in Lublin in the interest of immigrants and foreigners in general for at least 10 years, plays a crucial role in the organisation of help for refugees. Just on the eve of the war, they returned from the Polish-Belarusian border, so they were familiar with the situation on hand. They knew what was needed and how to organise themselves immediately.

The third spark was provided by the Lublin Cultural Euromaidan [link on YouTube – editor’s note], when it comes to the Centre for Culture. When in January 2014 the demonstrations started to gather in the Independence Square (Maidan) in Kyiv – and then the war truly began – in front of the Centre for Culture we organised concerts and the collection of medicines and other donations, which we took afterwards by lorry to Kyiv. So, when the war broke out at 5 in the morning on 24 February, as early as 11.00 am I got a phone call asking whether there could be the local headquarters of the humanitarian aid hub in the Centre for Culture. After 2014, tthe Centre seemed a natural choice for everybody. So, there were people who wanted to help; there were people who knew how to do it, because they had experience of working with refugees; and there was a place for all of them.

Piotr Skrzypczak (Homo Faber Association): This model of [Lublin Social Committee to Aid Ukraine – editor’s note] is transferable to other cities, but in order to implement it, you would have to travel back in time. For us, for example, it was helpful that one week before the outbreak of the war we organised a meeting of the Commission for Civil Dialogue on the City’s Integration Support System for Immigrants. At that time, we had been creating it for a year and a half along with other institutions linked to Lublin City Office. We invited the voivode and the city mayor to join us in a mutual discussion about what would happen if the war broke out. We came to know the authorities’ assumptions and principles, what they would do when refugees showed up at the border. So, this topic was already known to us. And yet not everything worked out.

I spoke to people who were occupied with social humanitarian aid in other cities. Something that they were missing, and which of course doesn’t work perfectly for us either, but enough, is mutual trust and complementarity. This refers to relationships that are not about race or competition. This is about action in good faith, that if you already do something, then we won’t do the same thing, but something parallel, and as a result we will strengthen ourselves. When the municipal office does something, then we don’t do it anymore. We just send people to their bureau and vice versa. There are always some complicated subjects and thorny issues between authorities and community organisations. We put ours aside and took care of what is most important. Thanks to that, we don’t have separate headquarters. Which means that there is only one, large general staff managed by the municipal office, and community organisations are doing some things there on the side. The Lublin Social Committee to Aid Ukraine is where it all permeates and complements one another.

Since mid-August 2021, we have been involved around the clock in activities on the Polish-Belarusian border, where we tried to prevent a humanitarian crisis caused by the Lukashenko regime and the Polish government. We created an informal Grupa Granica (Border Group), which included dozens of people from various organisations and those who acted individually. We helped people who were treated inhumanely by border guards in order to save their lives, thanks to which we gathered a lot of experience in organising grassroots, spontaneous actions regarding humanitarian aid. This allowed us to come to some decisions very quickly, which, as we noticed later, took more time in other cities.

From the Homo Faber Association’s website: “Homo Faber” is Latin for “Human Being the Maker”, a working human being. Mission: Small Steps, Big Changes. The vision of Homo Faber is Lublin, in which every person feels free and safe, fully enjoys their rights, regardless of gender, physical health, national and ethnic origin, “race”, skin colour, psychosexual orientation, religious beliefs, worldview, political opinion, level of wealth, age or any other feature. […] Homo Faber is a team of people specialised in various fields, jointly trying to use their potential in work for human rights. The principle of the team’s work relies on democratic decision-making, respect for individualism of its members, as well as continuous and systematic self-improvement.

Rafał “Koza” Koziński: In Europe, it was noticed that after the outbreak of the war, Poles behaved phenomenally. If I were to say why, I would start in general that to some extent it was Jurek Owsiak and his Great Orchestra of Christmas Charity that taught us how to help and give our free time to others. After all, an entire generation of today’s 30-year-olds grew up seeing how beautiful it is to help each other, how easy it is to leave home and be a volunteer. All it took was a real-life emergency so that people, regardless of their political preferences, would stand shoulder to shoulder to help. In some way, it fixed us as a society.

Olga (5 Liliowa Street): I am Belarusian, I came here to study, and I stayed. I feel a bond with the East. I have plenty of friends from Ukraine. I studied with Ukrainians, so I couldn’t imagine making a different decision than to help refugees from Ukraine. If I’ve helped one, two, three people, then why not help hundreds of them. Before the war, I was occupied with international trade with Russia and Ukraine. In Belarus, I was a girl scout and helping always felt good. I also benefited a lot from my upbringing. My mother has been with us in all this from the very beginning. Łukasz’s parents also took some refugees to their summer house. They’re helping all the time and we’re in touch. There is a war going on, people are losing their homes and their lives. It was 14 degrees below zero then, I just couldn’t make a different decision.

Marcin (5 Liliowa Street): I’m a professional poker player, but I used to be a boy scout, too. I always liked to help. I did a lot of charity actions on my own. I organised charity poker tournaments, collections for animals. In Lublin and in Krakow, if something is needed, I simply act. We raised money for wheelchairs, for nursery schools, for a special school. When a friend’s wife was pregnant with their daughter, who had to undergo a heart operation right after birth, and for that reason had to collect 200-300 thousand euros. So, we organized a poker tournament among poker players and all the entry money went to this cause. When I met Olga and figured out that she wanted to give her house to refugees in need, I thought why not, I would do likewise.

Łukasz (5 Liliowa Street): I Am a lawyer by profession. I have a company with my father, we work with aluminium. Helping and Olga were my motivations. We have known each other for 5 years. We have a similar way of thinking. It is possible that our professions somehow helped us find ourselves in this whole situation. We concluded that Olga’s house was useful and that we could help. Then we were happy that it started to work out. Such an adrenaline surge! We are responsible for these people, and yet there is also personla satisfaction.

24 February

Piotr Skrzypczak: On February 24, around 4 in the morning, we were on a train to Berlin, just approaching Warsaw. Not far away sat three Ukrainian girls. At first, they were joking with each other, but at some point, they stopped. They started to look at their phones and list names of Ukrainian towns. It turned out that there was a missile attack. We immediately decided to come back and started contacting other organisations operating in similar areas and with the Lublin City Office in order to meet as soon as possible and prepare for what was to come. Because we knew exactly what was going to happen: on the border and in Lublin there would show up very disoriented people who would need immediate help. We knew that the sooner we’d gather and divide the work, the more peaceful and professional we’d be able to assist them. We also started calling friends who had access to some bigger groups of people. For instance, Maria Mazur, Dean of the University College of Enterprise and Administration, where I teach classes. We told her that we would need all the help she could get.

At 10 am we met in Krzysztof Stanowski’s office, in the Centre for International Cooperation of the Lublin City Office, with Nastia Kinzerska and with Ania Szadkowska from Lublin’s Participation Office. We immediately started talking about the areas in which we would have to work and about the place where we would orginise meetings of our “committee”. Because, from the get-go, it was supposed to be a social committee complementing the systematic actions of the City Office, Marshal Office and the Lubelskie Province Governor’s Office. It was a grassroots initiative organised primarily with the support of the municipality.

On the same day, in the afternoon, about 70 people came to the first open meeting for volunteers. We announced for what acivities and teams we would need people. The first subgroups were quickly created. It was very helpful for us that immediately, within the first hours, the Centre for Culture in Lublin gave us access to their space and that the Centre’s whole team that was at our disposal. If somebody needed any space, technical support, specific people for work, then we could use the staff and resources of the Centre for Culture at will. Thanks to that, we were able to arrange the support system very quickly, which consisted of around 20 working groups, which shortly started working on specific challenges on their own. Basic humanitarian aid was needed asap: to help these people understand what was happening, where they were and what options they had at that time. It was crucial to help them live through the very first hours in a dignified manner.

Olga: On the morning of February 24, my brother texted me saying that I could expect three families that week. Because he had Ukrainian trading partners and he simply had known that their families would be running away. I said that there was no problem. In the end, only one family came from my brother. And my friend from Warsaw brought me the first person, a girl. He went on the border as a volunteer to take people out from there, and nobody knew where to accommodate them after checking in at the reception desk. But they drove in four cars and they brought only one girl that first night, because people on the border were very afraid of those transports. A father was already coming from Berlin to take this girl, so she only slept one night at our house and drove on. All that time, my one hundred-metre heated garage was standing there unnecessarily empty. I made up my mind. I knew that it was only the beginning.

Rafał “Koza” Koziński: We immediately decided to open the common room, when women with children were staying with us on the first day. So, they could leave there their kids for few hours and handle their affairs. After one week, it turned out that it was difficult to look after these children with our staff resources, so we appealed for babysitters to come forward. And in this way, Ukrainian women started to do the shifts in the common room, and the Ukrainian and Polish kids were playing together.

The first days

Rafał “Koza” Koziński: During the first few days we experienced chaos in here. We didn’t know what we were getting ourselves into. We were following our instincts, we really wanted to help. We called our parents so they would look after our own children, because we weren’t constantly home. First, we allocated one room for regugees, which normally is meant for a dance theatre, because we knew that we would have to go on the border and bring more people. At midday there were several dozen people in it, and by 3 pm already over a hundred and fifty. So, it turned out that one room was not enough. We felt that the situation was developing and that the work would have to be reorganised. In the Centre for Culture, there were hundreds of people who really wanted to do something. Homo Faber splitted them into over a dozen task teams, and we located them depending on their needs – if, for example, they needed a cosy place or perhaps one one closer to the entrance to the Centre.

On the outside, as a sign of support, we flagged the building in yellow and blue, Ukrainian national colours, in order to indicate to people lost in a foreign city that here they could feel safe. At the entrance to the Centre for Culture there was also an information desk operated by Ukrainian-speaking people informing, where, how, and what to attend. It was important for people to know that when they approached the Centre and saw their flag, that inside they would find somebody who would take care of them

Initially, we gave our basements to the auxiliary staff, which at that time were awaiting renovation, so they weren’t being used on an ongoing basis. But within two days, we had to move the major part of the Centre’s programme activities to other rooms, because the refugees who didn’t have anywhere to go showed up. We also quickly vacated offices, because the Committee asked us to orginise an emergency call center. It turned out that there wasn’t another friendly place (with theexception of our offices), in which the operators could be available 24 hours a day. After a couple of days 75% of the space of the Centre for Culture was dedicated to the needs of the Committee.

The first technical barriers quickly appeared. For example, we had to intensify the Internet signal in the entire building and buy more telephone signal amplifiers. Already on the second day, too many conversations were conducted simultaneously in the Centre for Culture, given the then conditions. Before long, it emerged that the bigger office was needed. So, we relocated printers and other equipment to the Committee headquarters and to other places that were orginising help at that time.

Everything happened so fast and was so intuitive that only after a few days I started to wonder whether we even had the right to do it, i.e., whether, as a municipal cultural institution, we can commit ourselves so much to humanitarian aid instead of cultural activity. So, I read our statute and now I can be proud of the fact that when we wrote it as a community in 2019, we also added social actions to the tasks of the Centre for Culture in Lublin.

Łukasz: At the beginning, my goal was to go to the Ukrainian border and help as many people as I was old, that is 41. But then I came and thought: why not help 410 people? And Olga added: let’s help 4100 then. After two months we haven’t reach this number yet, but we’re close.

Marcin: I met Olga on February 27. On one of several Facebook groups, I saw a notice that a mother with a child was looking for accommodation. It turned out that there were also two other women who didn’t have a place to sleep. That mother was their priority, so I agreed to take all four of them. When they got lost in Lublin and I went to pick them up, it tourned out that there was yet another car with three people. They met somewhere along the way and the other car followed them to Lublin. I took everyone in and started looking for different accommodation for them on my own. A friend who also knew Olga saw my Facebook post, so he gave me her phone number. I called. She said OK. And that’s how it started.

Olga: After the first family with children and after another seven people, I already slept in my older son’s room with my younger son instead of sleeping in my own bedroom. The kids cried at night and we couldn’t sleep. So, our neighbour offered to take my boys in for the time of helping the refugees, so that they could get enough sleep, do their homework, and go to school.

Marcin: That was the beginning of the war, chaos on the border. A lot of my friends went there to pick up people every day. Helping became popular. There were hundreds of cars on the border, but Ukrainians, often with only one bag in hand, were afraid to get in stranger’s cars. It changed when reception points on the border started to register drivers and give them badges of approval.

Łukasz: Then there was this moment at the bus station when the coaches arrived, helpless people got off and simply said that they wanted to stay in Lublin, but they had nowhere to go. We looked at whether there was a free seat in the car and if there was a place to sleep and we brought them here, so we no longer had to go to the border.

Rafał “Koza” Koziński: Eventually, we simply suspended our art and cultural activity. Nobody objected. This decision was quckly coordinated with our curatorial council and discussed with all staff members: that for the time being we would suspend everything, because it was necessary to help people, mothers with children, to find them a roof over their heads, warmth and safety. How were we supposed to carry on with our programme and plays when people were dying? It came to us very naturally. It wasn’t a big deal.


Rafał “Koza” Koziński: Amongst the people dealing with accommodation there were also our stage technicians, full-time employees of the Centre for Culture, who every day for 20-30 years have been handling the technical side of staging wonderful performances of artists from around the world. And then, in our theatre hall, they started to accommodate Ukrainians. One of those staff members was Piotr Szamryk, who speaks Russian, and who turned out to be an incredible logistician in terms of lodging. Every day I saw him smiling and happy, because he could help and give something of himself. That was a truly remarkable experience.

Marcin: The first two weeks were hard for us. We cried often. People arrived in different physical and mental states. And those kids… My heart hurt. We saw the family arrive, sit down, look at the wall and cry. They showed us photographs of their ruined homes, or of someone dead… We cried a lot. Then we got used to it, although it still affects us. But it was during those first weeks that you could collect tears in buckets. The things we’ve seen will stay with us for the rest of our lives.

Rafał “Koza” Koziński: In the room where we are now talking, the word „war” has not come up once, probably since its construction, during the renovation of the Centre for Culture. There were no conversations about it, there was no aggression. After three weeks since the outbreak of the war, I noticed that the contents shown in the media are generating negative emotions in people. I haven’t had a TV for 25 years, but for the time of the war I paid my TV subscription fee to be in the swim. I started watching TV and I noticed that at some point people started to be overwhelmed by this aggression, by this suffering. This had a great impact on our relationships. Arguments started, behaviour on the verge of acceptability began to emerge. I advised them to stop watching TV.

Piotr Skrzypczak: What is still needed are affection, chill, and some withdrawal. At our meetings we laugh, joke, and reduce tension. We know that we’re doing an important job, but in order not to go crazy, we support each other against this enormity of difficulties, we show that we’re in the same team.

Rafał “Koza” Koziński: At the general staff meeting, in the Centre for Culture, I thanked everyone who was involved in helping. But I also told the others who couldn’t, didn’t want to or didn’t feel like helping, not to feel remorse about it, to not feel that they had to. Somebody thanked me afterwards for saying that, because he was experiencing it differently and he just didn’t know how to get involved.

Infrastructure management

Marcin: We dedicated a whole house to refugees, plus we installed over 30 beds in our garage. In practice, there were 50-60 people, because when mothers with small children arrived, they fitted together on one mattress. Everything in manual mode, everything goes through our three phones. It is Olga who mainly works, because she knows the language. I was responsible for all social media of 5 Liliowa Street, so I spent my time on Lublin aid groups, then also on Polish nationwide ones.

I followed the situation on an ongoing basis. During the day there were many announcements from people looking for accommodation and a lot of responses from families who took them in. So, we started opening in the afternoon, when the new people arrived and didn’t know what to do with themselves. Then there was a shortage of places, so we would put in announecments that we had, for example, 30 places free. In addition, the Multi Frigo company and the Volunteer Centre reported that they had a group planned, but couldn’t accommodate them, so they called us and asked if we had anything available. We worked simultaneously with how the refugees functioned. 24 hours a day. At a stretch, we were able to work for 16 hours and sleep for 3 hours.

Olga: When it comes to how many people came through 5 Liliowa Street, we provided over 4 thousand nights’ sleep (hotel days), whereas when it comes to people physically it was about 2 thousand.

Marcin: That initiative was like a snowball. Firstly, Olga wanted to take in 10 people, then we helped 20, 30, 40, and then one thing led to another: garage, transport, everyday items, and food. We also helped hundreds of people by giving them things out of the store, and not all the people who went through our emergency hotline slept at our place. We immediately contacted some people remotely from other places.

Olga: In business, it’s called “dropshipping”.

Rafał “Koza” Koziński: The Centre for Culture in Lublin had its own office supplies for the first half-year, reams of paper, printer cartridges, photocopier toners, and various cleaning materials. But with this developing situation, our supplies repleted within 10 days. We weren’t thinking about it, though, we gave everything that was needed. It also shows the scale of the demand for this kind of stuff.

At some point, the Centre for Culture was open 24/7. We only improved our security, because hostile emails had already started to come through. All the rehearsal and workshop rooms, theatre and dance halls were changed into office rooms, because that was the pressing need. The building was alive and worked 24 hours a day. I was happy that the Centre for Culture was widely open, because closed institutions always irritate me. Against all appearances, departments taking care of the building, administration, etc. didn’t have a problem with it. We knew we were working on trust and nothing bad could come out of this.

A digest of a report on the support offered by the Centre for Culture to the Lublin Social Committee to Aid Ukraine:

  1. Rooms made available free of charge (90% of workshop rooms, theatre halls, auditoriums, rehearsal studios and art rooms were used by the Social Committee and for the sake of helping Ukraine [for almost 100 days – Rafał Koziński’s note]):

    • two rooms in the basement of the Centre for Culture (headquarters, everyday meetings of coordinators at 4 pm)

    • rehearsal studios no. 1, 2, 3 + corridors (round-the-clock call centre)

    • the whole wing of the Little Art Studio (childcare, every day)

    • Room no. 20 (accommodation for drivers going to the border, in emergency cases also for families with kids)

    • Room no. 19 (relax area for mothers with small children)

    • Rehearsal studio no. 5 and 6 + corridor (waiting room for people in the process of finding accommodation)

    • Rehearsal studio no. 5 and 6 at night + corridor (relax area for people in an emergency at night)

    • Black Room (9 lodging points)

    • Dressing Room I in the Black Room and a corridor (room to work in silence for people from the staff)

    • Dressing Room II in the Black Room and a corridor (collection’s office)

    • Centre for Culture’s main entrance (the first information desk for refugees)

    • Hotel II floor (for lodging use)

    • Yurt (space for children)

    • Exhibition halls of the Biała (White) Gallery (lodging reserve)

    • Cinema (Ukrainian cinema)

    • Main Auditorium (cultural activities for refugees)

  2. Types of involvement:

    • logistic and organisational: rooms, Internet, amplified telephone signals, furniture, furnishings and necessary equipment, car, transports to the border and back

    • personal: over a dozen people on duty 24/7 + logistic staff service, intensified security, service for people with disabilities

    • financial: costs of sanitation and hygienic supplies, office supplies, office equipment (computers, printers, acces points, signal amplifier, power, heating, water, coffee, tea, fuel, current acquisition, etc.)

    • communication and information activities: promotion and communication department

  3. Coordinating team, working practically 24/7: 17 people (management, communication with headquarters, coordination of the team’s work, coordination and securing of space and orders (materials, equipment, etc.), equipment coordination, support services, securing of property, equipment, and computer network, provision of equipment, coordination of consistent outside communication, providing visual communication in the building), ensuring the functioning of space for Ukrainian children.

Volunteers’ management

Rafał “Koza” Koziński: What hit me was the change between 2014 and 2022 in the number of volunteers from Ukraine. The season was similar. When we orginised aid for the [participants of – translator’s edit] Maidan 2014, there were literally a few Ukrainians who helped us with staging the Lublin Cultural Euromaidan, and now suddenly several dozen of them appeared, and then hundreds. They gave up their time and their energy. What’s interesting is that their main core now consisted of the same people that were also active in 2014.

At first, there was a big “hooray”, but after a week it turned out that despite the promises someone either didn’t come to the information desk or to the accommodation, or to the call centre, which at the beginning, for a few days, worked socially, but then started to empty out. The situation was saved by municipal office workers who came here at 8 am sharp and left at 8 pm. They took on responsibility and didn’t think how long they were in the Centre for Culture, only that they were there to help. I don’t know what they said at work, but they came here in the morning and didn’t leave at 3 pm, but stayed longer. They also showed up on Saturdays and Sundays. They worked as much as it was necessary. It was one of the links in this chain, thanks to which help on such a massive scale was possible. When it comes to volunteers, the biggest support was from the Ukrainian side, who didn’t go to war and thanks to that they could help their compatriots in Lublin.

Officials and employees of institutions put everything together, because they knew how the system should work and they also provided a good example of dutifulness and proficiency. The volunteers had to be clearly told that if they decided to help, they would get proper training on how to behave, where to call, what to say, what feedback to convey, and that they would have to come for a minimum of 4 hours a day and sign in the calendar so that there would be no unoccupied hours. We had no other way, but to start with responsability, because at first, we had to work 12-14 hours a day and we just couldn’t take our foot off the gas.

A lot was done just by dividing our duties according to what each person coped with best. If somebody felt good at quartering, then they took care of it. Somone else was comfortable babysitting, so they became a babysitter. It was the Homo Faber Association that taught us how to do all this. In practice, it looked like there were, let’s say, 3-5 people from the Association, then over a dozen municipal office clerks, over a dozen employees of the institution, and only then volunteers and residents of Lublin.

It was marvellous for me, for instance, that for over a month for 4 hours a day two city councilwomen, Maja Zaborowska and Monika Kwiatkowska, would come to the accommodation office in the Centre for Culture. They sat and quartered people day after day. Because they commited themselves to it and took responsibility for it, even though they had their own work and council duties.

Thanks to Owsiak, everyone could follow live on TV for many years, what helping really is all about. We saw how pleasant that was, that it’s good and that it bears fruit. I think that’s why people were able to go out now, go to the station and say: „I’m here, I have time, I want to be a volunteer”. But once there are volunteers, someone has to organise them, so first there is a need for leaders whom people will follow. It’s just that only one person won’t handle any situation in its entirety. There is a need for three or four “creators”, who would know how to manage people well.

Organizational structure

Piotr Skrzypczak: At its busiest period, the Committee consisted of 40 coordinators working every day and 250 volunteers in 22 groups with a specific thing to do, but not necessarily day after day. The volunteers were mainly people from Ukraine and Belarus and only a small group from Poland. Of course, the number, composition, and intensity of the activities of several groups changed over time as needs appeared, grew, and faded out. I will try to point out at least some of them and briefly describe them:

  • Most of Ukrainian and Russian-speaking volunteers worked in lodging centres, in coach and railway stations, and operated our hotline as well as staffed our quartering points (up to a certain moment in time) and reception points, and worked in logistics, i.e., driving people or transporting products. The hotline was created thanks to the help of the Lublin City Office and the Lublin Regional Tourist Organisation. We hired over a dozen people who, in four languages [in Ukrainian, Russian, English and in Polish – editor’s note], helped refugees solve their problems. Those teams worked 24 hours a day. Accommodation was based on offers sent via Google Docs Forms and registrations coming in through other ways. On the other hand, those groups cooperated with our assistance group, i.e., one that worked by visiting families who took refugees in and by supporting them in various individual matters.

  • A different team took care of the volunteers, i.e, internal care. There was also a seperate group providing psychological support for children, adults, and volunteers.

  • At the same time, I’d like to mention medical aid, that is sending medical supplies to Ukraine, which was handled by Krzysztof Łątka’s team of the Foundation for the Development of Central and Eastern Europe, which later developed its own contacts with Ukrainian partners. As a result, there were two separate departments: medical aid in Lublin and the second one, which sent medical aid directly to Ukraine.

  • Another group handled the Polish labour market: helping with finding a job for a particular person, creating a general pool of job vacancies or finding employees for a business with specific needs. A system combining all those things was created, and it was handled by Wiktoria Herun from the Lublin City Office. In general, many people from these groups are municipal office clerks and officials.

  • Legal aid is another and, of course, a very broad topic about which a separate book could be written. By the way, it is important to mention the team of more advanced translations, e.g., legal documents and official texts.

  • Of course, food aid was of essential importance, when there were no systemic solutions yet and hungry people were still arriving. Except that we didn’t buy food, but we acted as an intermediary between restaurants willing to give out meals for free and people in need of food. So, it was just a huge job of connecting different threads. That’s where Justyna Domaszewicz, who used her experience of organising the Calling For Reinforcements” campaign that supported health service workers during the pandemic, was a great help. The food aid also involved providing better quality products, such as fruits, vegetables, and dairy from farmers in an orderly manner. The refugees were provided pasta and oil from the city’s resources, but you can’t feed a child with pasta and oil alone.

  • Similarly, a separate and basic issue was childcare: common rooms and acitivities, daily cultural animation. On this occasion, I can also mention collecting books, not only for children, because all the refugees wanted to read books. So, we imported books from Ukraine and passed them on. We succeeded in convincing libraries to register them, because before the war they only agreed to book sharing, i.e., to put a box of books in different languages for people to take them, and after all, that was not the point.

  • We started a scholarship programme for people who, for example, went to a music school in Ukraine and played the piano, so that they could continue to do so in Lublin. Nobody could accept them into a music school overnight, but we could hire someone to provide them with every day instrument lessons.

  • We also coordinated donations and collections, but we didn’t do the collections ourselves. There are people in this team who know who is collecting and who is not, what to take and where to put it.

  • The reception group oversaw the reception desk in the Centre for Culture. They talked with people and passed information to them. We also had an information department directed outside through guides, leaflets, posters, because at the beginning, nobody knew where, what, and how to find information packs. Those materials went to reception desks and stations. We gave the Border Guard an information pack, small leaflets to be put in the refugees’ passports regarding human trafficking, how not to fall into the hands of criminals who wilingly offer a lift to some factory.

  • We also have a group for contacting outside entities, both with big national and global organisations dealing with humanitarian aid and with media, such as La Strada or the BBC. Because we have people prepared for that, they want to talk with us. Thanks to this system of communication, we were able to gain means of support quite quickly. As part of these activities, the Lublin City Office dealt with foreign transfers separately.

  • Finally, it is also worth mentioning the team responsible for buildings and infrastructure, which was needed to organise meetings and workshops of, e.g., Polish and Ukrainian language lessons. Ukrainian courses involving classes twice a week were attended by, for example, people coordinating some activities. Polish courses were open for every Ukrainian. Some were basic and elementary, others professional and work-related, e.g., for psychologists or for children, so they could, for instance, say how they feel, or for school assistants, so that they could have contact not only with Ukrainian kids, but also with the Polish-speaking teaching staff. For the same reason, we organised two groups of an intensive monthly course for Ukrainian teachers working in schools who were hired, but they didn’t know Polish.

We followed what was happening the whole time. We were trying to stay in touch with those who needed help. We were present in all areas and thanks to our everyday meetings, we exchanged information on an ongoing basis. We managed to catch what was happening and observe what the dynamic was. At a certain period, new refugee service points opened every day, but there came a week when three of them were closed.

It is good that fewer people needed basic emergency assistance, but then the others began to have higher needs. Because people require not only to eat, to drink, or to sleep, but they also need work, equipment, and education for their children. They need to get to know the city, to look out for a stable place to live and not only for a moment, etc. Recently, we’ve started to talk about support from Polish families who have been hosting refugees for even 6 weeks.

An abstract from the report of the Centre for Culture in Lublin on the support provided to the Lublin Social Committee to Aid Ukraine concerning Homo Faber Association’s task groups:

Working groups (35 coordinators: 14 people from Lublin City Office + Centre for Culture in Lublin, Homo Faber Association, Foundation of Spiritual Culture of Borderland, Medimost, „Grodzka Gate – NN Theatre” Centre, St. Albert’s Brotherhood of Mercy, Rule of Law Institute Foundation, Lublin University of Technology, and others):

  1. Coordination

  2. Around-the-clock telephone information desk

  3. Accommodation

  4. Schools / nursery schools

  5. Childcare (individual care, animation in collective accommodation centres, translations in institutions)

  6. Nutrition

  7. Legal aid

  8. Material aid, collections

  9. Transport, logistics

  10. Coordination of needs of lodging points and coordination with the City Office

  11. Coordination of volunteers’ work + translators’ database

  12. Information desk / reception in the Centre of Culture

  13. Database

  14. Psychological care

  15. Public Relations, social media, media, NGOs from Poland

  16. Translations (oral translations, sign language)

  17. Medical aid

  18. Contacts with Ukraine

  19. Contact with other entities (NGOs, institutions, companies)

  20. Military support

  21. Building of the Centre for Culture in Lublin (technical and IT, maintenance, liaison with the management, cross-linking and networking with staff members)

  22. Business / work contacts

Cross-sectoral networking

Piotr Skrzypczak: Municipal office clerks, working in many groups of the Committee, use their professional experience. This cross-sectoral cooperation is one of the most important things, which worked out here, but not necessarily in other cities: for example, in other cities there was created a grassroots support point, working independently of the municipal and voivodship helpdesks, there two different hotlines, etc. Here, we were able to combine it all. We had meetings at 4pm every day. For one hour – it was important not to prolong it – we discussed key challenges, connected the threads, and supported teams which happened to have a hard time at that moment. From time to time, mayor of Lublin Krzysztof Żuk showed up to our briefings to stay up to date with current problems.

Our association is the founder of the Lublin Social Committee to Aid Ukraine as an initiator of many solutions as well as an entity well-prepared for those measures after months on the Belarusian border. We worked in partnership with the Centre for Culture in Lublin and the Lublin City Office. The roots of the committee consist of the Foundation of Spiritual Culture of Borderland, Rule of Law Institute Foundation, Foundation for the Development of Central and Eastern Europe, Kultura Enter, Polish Scouting and Guiding Association (ZHP), and Ukrainian Plast. Furthermore, there are many supporting organisations, which operate in specific areas and carry out their own actions. For example, so much is being done by cultural institutions with whom we do not cooperate directly. We know what they’re doing, we’ve got it mapped and we’re in touch, even though they don’t participate in our meetings.

Marcin: We made a Facebook profile, which our friends shared, and it somehow went from there. I remember us working for 18 hours a day. One time, I got home at 1am and I received a message from a person from Germany, saying they could send us donations. I thought I was too tired and I didn’t know who that person was, but then I noticed we had a mutual friend on Facebook. Then it became obvious that it was a credible human being. It turned out that they got to know each other through our post.

Thanks to our friend sharing my post, this person from Germany found out about us, went to a local donation drop point and announced that there was a place called 5 Liliowa Street in Lublin, Poland, where they arrange support and it was possible to send a contribution. That is because Germans had inconsistent information, too. They didn’t know where to send help, whether directly to the border or to some other place, just so it wouldn’t go to waste. Finally, aour friend hooked us up and gave me Ilka’s phone number. And she said they wanted to come with two busesfull of supplies and would take 12 people on their way back. She sent me a photo of the place where they were to be individually accommodated.

Olga: We started by tracking humanitarian aid convoys and lorries that headed directly towards us. Europeans arranged it so that they collected donations for Ukrainians and people who raised them or handed them over, while offering overnight stays for refugees.

Piotr Skrzypczak: Talking with people from other big cities, who know that Lublin did a pretty good job, I keep saying it all came down to trust and complementing one another. But not everything went down smoothly. As the Committee, we could not easily fit into structures of one department, regardless of attempts, conversations, and negotiations; no one knew who was responsible for what. And we looked at an aspect of time differently. When we work and we have something to do, we sit down, talk and everything is set after 15 minutes. Meanwhile, in case of this department, we had a 4 hour-long meeting, and nothing came of it. There were too many speeches, preliminaries, but nothing specific in the end. So, we didn’t get into any deep partnership. However, we have a working relationship, and we cooperate. That’s, by the way, a good side of being an NGO: we don’t have to do anything. But we can. We work freely. Obviously, if we do something and it turns out to be a flop, we must take full responsibility, but if something does not feel right to us, nobody can force us to take that action.

In offices, the pace of work is often different in general. When it comes to us, if something is urgent, then for us it is a matter of an hour or two. I had this situation where some things were to be done swiftly. So, I asked what the deadline was, that day or next morning, and a woman employee told me that it was for the next week. Naturally, we had and still have a circle of office clerks around us who work profoundly faster.

Few months in Grupa Granica taught us that during interventions of humanitarian aid, horizontal organisation does not really work, because it leads to conflicts, to inefficient decisiveness. What is valued here is quick decision-making, not a long process of doing that. What works is a tightly organised structure, task-oriented and hierarchical (in a good way). Contemplating might be done when we have time on our hands. Each person should know what their role is and with whom they can get in contact just in case.

So, we did not conduct any extensive process of co-deciding. Instead, we organised quick consultations and relied on trust, putting it to work. If someone gets a well-explained task, we have a mutual trust that they are going to do it through and through. And if things go south, they will come and talk. As leaders, we try to be in touch, but not to engage, not to steer manually. No micromanagement on our part. If I see that there is something wrong in a team, I will go to the coordinator to discuss it. After few weeks, there were more „big players” around us, national and international organisations which slowly but surely were joining the action. With their deliberation, procedures, and meetings. This is all good, but at the beginning we did not have time for that and people awaited our quick decisions.

Marcin: We are our own bosses and if we were to consult everything with somebody else, there would not even be half of what we have done by now. We tried to team up with other official entities, but it just was not possible. Too much paperwork and politics. For example, some politician comes and takes a photo with refugees, as if they were super helpful, when in reality they do nothing.

There were times when we hit a „formal” wall. We had a chance to get huge transports to verified and reliable places abroad. People would go there safely, they had help, insurance, social allowance. So, we wanted to take people from a night shelter, but we did not have access there as we weren’t „officials”. Some forms were supposed to be filled in “from Monday to Friday to 3pm”, but we have a transport, for example, scheduled for tomorrow, but it is not within office hours.

Łukasz: After one of the meetings with a crisis team, I was added to a group of clerks on WhatsApp, because they were organising to transport a group abroad and I was terrified of the number of messages that popped out there. Within 2 days 7 new members joined to help 15 people to cross a border, while at the same time we ourselves managed to transport 200. And those messages were like „Did I use the correct font in the form?” and ” What’s the breed of the cat?”.

Marcin: I remember that at the beginning of our activity I declared that we had a room for a dozen or so individuals, and that room was taken in an hour. Meanwhile, it took 5 days for someone from the crisis team to call and ask about that room. And I did not even know anymore what he was talking about.

Łukasz: I called some facility and asked how much space they had. It was 40 beds, so I wanted to send them people right away, and they told me it was not doable, because „final acceptance” was still pending and we had to wait. It was finally done by Friday, and I called on Monday. 4 days of pointless wasting empty beds.

Marcin: In the meantime, we attended to 200 people in our place.

Łukasz: At some point, things kind of went into reverse and started to work anticlockwise: official institutions started calling us, sending us buses to pack them with food and essentials. We wondered how it was possible? Where was the state that was supposed to be helping us, rather than the other way round?

Marcin: We sent loads of stuff to Ukraine, but we also helped families who accommodated Ukrainians in their houses. We were and are still running a warehouse, to which between 10 to 50 families were able to come throughout a day. However, we could not provide supplies to official, public facilities. The entire time we had contact with other private institutions and volunteers and cooperated with them.

Łukasz: From the very beginning we worked with Fundacja Zmieniamy Życie that brought people to us. And for example, when the woman from the Multi Frigo company stopped providing assistance, she donated racks, duvets, pillows, etc. to us.

When it comes to the Lublin Social Committee to Aid Ukraine, we were at a meeting and got in touch with their representatives, but we could not really work things out. We tried to cooperate, but nothing really came out of it in the end.

What we see as priorities

Piotr Skrzypczak: Last thing: not everybody stayed with us, and we did not get on well with everybody. There were people who wanted more, successively adding things not approved previously, so we said: „If you want to do that, then go ahead, but on your own”. We said goodbye sometimes peacefuly, sometimes not, some farewells were more formal. We were different, but there were never any kind of open arguments.

The authorities’ primary assumptions, the knowledge of which we came into during the meeting of the Commission for Civil Dialogue on the City’s Integration Support System for Immigrants, was that Lublin and the whole region were supposed to be a transit area, through which the refugees from Ukraine were only to pass. It quickly became clear that a lot of people wanted to be as close to the border as possible, and hardly anyone wanted to move on. So, the places that were initially designated only for a temporary stay, were being filled in the first few weeks. The idea that we tell them where they have to go next is not what we call humanitarian aid. Because people decide about it by themselves. Most of them wanted to come back to Ukraine, and they did.

For us, treating a person as a subject was always where we set a line. We never forced, pressured, or talked anyone into making a particular decision. If one refugee wanted to stay in the night shelter for another week – it is their decision. And even if somewhere else there are better conditions, for example abroad, it is our, but not their opinion. They are not some bag to throw around. Time has shown that many people who had been persuaded to go somewhere further, came back, also to the shelter. And the vast majority of those who got to Lublin are already back in Ukraine.

Olga: The needs were changing all the time. For instance, after the first two months we knew that we could use steady access to the night shelter the most, because that is where the most helpless people gathered. Those were all the same faces, all the time. They did not know what to do with themselves, that there were organised transfers to other countries and there was nobody who would explain to them why the effort was worth their while. Instead, they were notoriously persuaded to apply for a social security number, which made them stay here and prevented them from moving someplace else.

Marcin: Olga talked with those who came to us, because the majority of them did not want to travel farther. They wanted to be as near to the border as it was viable, so they could get back to Ukraine right away. So, it was necessary to explain that it was going to be better for them if they relocated outside of Lublin, where there were no more employment opportunities, as the city was packed. Those who took them in are not able to support them for a year or so, and things may turn ugly. Tourist resorts offered them accommodation, but the holiday season is just round the corner and Ukrainians will have to leave. At some point, we had so many contacts and transports that we simply could not fill them all in. That would be possible if we had access to all refugee contact bases or if we could enter shelters to talk to those people without restrictions.

The architecture of safety

Łukasz: It must be said that the City Guard and fire service were always of assistance. They transported people and were very amiable and kind. There came a time when vigilance and control were increased, as there were cases of missing refugees. That is when the police used to come to us with regard to human trafficking, but we never had any problem showing our proof of identity and saying what we were doing.

Olga: They would say: we know you, we see you, we have mutual friends and we know what you are working on, but there are people who offer transport for 300 refugees, for example, to Portugal, but nobody knows who they are and by whose recommendation they came here. After one of those police controls, there was a rumour, either from someone from the outside or the refugees themselves, that there had been an inspection and they shut us down as a result. But those kinds of cases have to be dealt with.

Another time, the border guard came to us during some bigger shipment and started questioning me in a rather unappealing manner why I was not granted Polish citizenship. I said that the President does not provide justification for this kind of decision. There is succinct information about the official refusal and that is it. And why did I apply to the President and not to the voivode? That is self-evident: It is free, while the voivode stamp duty costs 900 zlotys. In the end, everything was clarified, but I needed to refute such blatantly groundless accusations.

Marcin: After a while the City Guard received an order to transport people from railway and bus stations only to official facilities. And so sometimes 20 people came to us by train, and we had to organise them a cab, while Guard’s cars were waiting empty.

Olga: Everyone who comes here receives a form to fill in, detailing from when to when they stayed and where they went. Because you can help two thousand peoplem but, God forbid, one of them gets hurt and things get nasty. Thankfully, nothing like that has happened here.

Łukasz: At one point, there was a rumour that someone had been selling people for organs. Everyone was talking about it, but it was rather misinformation spread by Russians. Obviously, organised crime never sleeps, but those cases are really rare. But because we cared about security, we installed cameras, took photos of drivers and of their licences and number plates. Later, transport services started to send us information by themselves on an ongoing basis, so we could be certain that everything was okay, because obviously we worried about those people as well. And we want them to reach their destinations and to feel safe and comfortable there.

Marcin: We had contact with refugees independently, who provided us with feedback.

Olga: Once, some Asians, who had no clue what was going on there, saw huge buses and called the police and reported suspected women trafficking. One can say they maintained civic responsibility. Of course, everything was eventually clarified.

We also had another stressful situation. It was about the transport confirmed from the other side by German and Dutch authorities. So, we sent them two groups and later received information that they were in a women’s prison! The truth is we do not have any form of influence as for where Germans or Dutch authorities prepared temporary shelter points, and that time it so happened that it was a women’s prison behind barbed wires, and former cells as sleeping quarters. Now, let’s imagine women with children arriving in the middle of the night to this kind of place… Obviosuly, those are mistakes everybody learns from.

Łukasz: One morning we woke up anxious. We received photos that the Dutch did not give them anything to eat, everything was painted black. Finally, I got a message that the fridges were full and everything was fine. Only this building was rather unfortunate. The Dutch are super organised and have made central points in each province. They had an empty space and used it. And everything came with it, kitchen, bathroom, etc, but the prison is what it is.

Marcin: In Germany, one lord mayor took all refugees to a hotel in a similar situation.

Olga: Some group of 16 people was „put in a prison” and called me, saying there was a barbed wire and what they were supposed to do. Later, the lord mayor came to this place and within an hour he took them all to a hotel. He stated that if it was so stressful and people did not want to stay there, so they had to be placed in a hotel as a form of intervention.

Marcin: We had a crisis in Lublin. There was a bus to the Netherlands, and we were supposed to pick up 20 people who were to leave Chełm at 6pm. We waited for a few hours, but they were nowhere to be seen. We called our associate and everything seemed to be fine, but they still were not there. It turned out that nobody took a phone number to the driver in Chełm, nor did he note down our number or anybody else’s. We simply lost contact and the driver forgot where he was supposed to go. It was not around 5 a.m. that I received a phone call from a volunteer at a train station, who told me that he had a group of give or take 30 people, who wanted to go to Germany. In response, I told him that I had lost the very same group. What proved to be the case was that the driver had mixed up the addresses and instead of going to Liliowa Street, he went to the hotel in Willowa Street. Which, by the way, was right next to us. He dropped off mothers with children at night, the hotel was closed, they were crying, it was cold. Somebody called the police, and they ended up in police cars and a city bus, warming up and spending the night that way. Finally, someone found our number on Facebook and described the situation on the phone. We took them in, provided them with food, and ultimately they reached our place, and later travelled to Germany.

Who paid for that?

Piotr Skrzypczak: When the organising situation stabilised, those 40 team coordinators were already employed based on a mandate contract, and 250 volunteers on volunteer agreement. Where did that come from? It turned out really quick that it was not possible for anyone to quit their regular job, to manage family and otherwise responsibilities, and to simply work for dozens of hours for the next few weeks. So, we adopted a system where those who are not on a volunteer agreement and do important tasks (manage others and have to be involved daily) have to be employed, just to make everything fair.

We paid around 20 zlotys per hour net, so around 3,000 per month. At the beginning, it was the same wage for everyone because we did not have time nor resources to calculate and differentiate that. We did not know each other either. We did not know what was gonna happen next, so the only idea at the time was to treat everyone equally.

We spent about 100,000 zlotys on volunteers within the first three weeks, which covered allowance, transport, nutrition, materials. Each volunteer received a food coupon worth 50 zlotys for a daily shift. So, we used to spend about 1,500 a month per person coming for shifts every day. Volunteers were our biggest asset, so we did everything to treat them right. Looking back, I would say it was worth it, because even with a smaller number of tasks, most of these people are still with us.

We took a risk as an organisation without having money. I mean, there were other big organisations and institutions which promised to give us something, but we did not have anything just yet. Only later did we start receiving donations directly and the Lublin City Office was getting offers of help, but they did not have a separate bank account where the money could be transferred, so they redirected people to other organisations, including ones involved in the Committee. After a few weeks, applying for refugee-specific grants became possible. This process continues, but that is another story which concerns mainly what is still waiting for us in the future.

Łukasz: People asked who funded it all. Money came from donations; it was not for us. We had a lot of expenses, such as bills, transport, cabs, those kind of things to just help people. Many times, we provided money for fuel, moved out of our home, and stayed in a hotel.

Olga: At one point, our public donation got blocked and we were behind with some payments, and financial problems emerged. Plenty of people were put up in this house, so it needs to be renovated. Here, a switch is missing. There, the closet was flooded and God knows what state the clothes are in.

Marcin: This house was occupied 24/7: 4 washing machines, food, electricity, tumbledryer, cooking, 5 fridges, trash. Donations covered all that, but expenses never ended: fuel, transport, pocket money.

Łukasz: Eventually, the situation stabilised a bit, especially when it came to nutrition. Some restaurants helped us individually and in March we started to receive meals thanks to Justyna Domaszewicz, who took care of that and saved us thousands of times. However, with the last days of March, the action came to an end. After that, some restaurants continued to help us and still do, on their own initiative, for example Zona 31. To this very moment they bring us large meals twice a week. There is also Bożenka, a woman who cooks for us up until this day. Obviously, not daily, because everyone has their own life, job, and responsibilities. However, many neighbours helped and still do so, in any way they can.


Rafał “Koza” Koziński: We lived in a country where there was peace, we had hot tap water, you could not die from hunger, and small dreams did come true, everything worked out one way or another – some had it better, some had it worse, but everything was rather fine. We lived in that state of things and suddenly it turned out that it could be different, that people suffer, run away with children, having one plastic bag between themselves. On the other hand, we lived in a world of sick fractures, aggression, uncertainty, being angry with the Church, political parties, and other people, in a world without enough empathy. But what we could see is that in our divided society, there is still space for altruism and sensitivity. I think that when the opportunity occurs, people just take it and they help, give up their free time and open their hearts. After what started to happen in Poland, people wanted to help others to cut themselves from the permanent hate as well. To feel that they can win this war. But even though we are surrounded by hate and political war in social media, we were not prepared for the real one at all.

Within the first two weeks after the outbreak of the war, I had a meeting with culture animators and managers from other cities, who asked me whether I would be interested in inviting here some Ukrainian artist, who happened to be with them at the time. So, I said to them that I could invite them today to Lublin, but to repack goods or to spend time on the phone and organise accommodation for newly arrived people. My reaction was a surprise to them because they did not know the reality of the situation. In one big city the topic of temporarily giving up private apartments to Ukrainian refugees was not covered at all, because it was assumed that the citizens would not declare anything. Because the culture there is different, people meet up in pubs, rather than in their own houses. No one knows if this would work out, but those who could have started this process, rejected this option wrongfully – only on a hunch.

We needed to help others to shake off the absurdity of our reality but at the same time we were not prepared for the real cannons to shoot. We lived in the time where the word „war” was not in use, was not part of any discussion, and suddenly in the Centre of Culture we have people who experienced suffering and death.


Author: Marcin Skrzypek
Translation: Wiktoria Nowak, Barbara Zielonka
Proof-reading: Michalina Żydek

Translation realised as part of student internship (90 hours, October – February 2022-23) in the second year of Applied Linguistics (Faculty of Languages, Literatures and Cultures, UMCS) at the „Grodzka Gate – NN Theatre” Centre under the direction of Marcin Skrzypek.