PRZEMYSL, Poland — Buses, broken suitcases, a pile of strollers and tents stuffed with donated clothing, toys, diapers, canned food, stiff cots and blankets fill the parking lot of the defunct Tesco supermarket in Przemysl.
As hundreds of thousands of people — mostly women and children — flee Russia’s war on Ukraine, many of them cross the border into Poland.
The border checkpoint at Medyka, Poland, is the first destination for many of the forcibly displaced people. If no friends or family pick them up at the checkpoint, they are directed to a bus and driven less than 10 miles to the “Refugee Hub” set up by the Polish government at the former supermarket.
According to the U.N. Refugee Agency, between Feb. 24 and March 5 more than 1.5 million refugees fled Ukraine and more than 55% of them sought safety after crossing Ukraine’s border with Poland.
Time and space at the Tesco hub have been described as purgatory.
Conversations and interviews end abruptly when the refugees need to grab the last seat on the bus to Krakow. Volunteers from Caritas and other charities and humanitarian organizations will occasionally take a break, but their eyes glaze over as they think about their long to-do list.
Mainly, the Tesco refugee hub feels like purgatory because no one wants to be there.
When a journalist asked to take a photo of the Tankano family March 4, they posed with smiles.
Yulia, the mother, stared adoringly at her daughter, Victoria, a toddler. Maksim, Yulia’s son, and the children’s grandmother, Valya, grinned at the lens.
“We’re afraid,” Valya said. “It’s terrible for the children, so that’s why we came here. It was really awful to leave our home, obviously. But of course, we want to return. (To) sow the potatoes.”
Valya chuckled as she said that, but her face fell when she realized that she might not make it home in time for the planting.
But the mood lightened when Yulia looked down at her son and proudly announced, “for the last three or four days he’s been singing ‘Shche Ne Vmerla Ukrainy’ (the Ukrainian national anthem).” She bounced Victoria on her hip and said, “now she’s started to sing it, too.”