Please disable your adblock and script blockers to view this page

Worlds apart: 24 hours with two refugees in Poland

Al Jazeera
Territorial Defence Forces
the European Union
the Kurdistan Regional Government
United Nations Children’s Fund
the Territorial Defence Forces

Hawar Abdalla*
Tasha Kyshchun
Alexander Lukashenko
Saddam Hussein’s
Al Jazeera




Sofiyivska Borschagivka
Maiia and Solomia
the United States
Soviet Ukraine

the Great Famine of 1932-1933

Positivity     43.00%   
   Negativity   57.00%
The New York Times
Write a review: Al Jazeera English

An Iraqi Kurd and a Ukrainian, part of families with young children, take us through a day in their lives as refugees.Listen to this story:Since the war in Ukraine started on February 24, more than three million Ukrainians have fled across the border to Poland. When they make it out, they are often taken to detention centres or pushed back to Belarus.Non-Ukrainian refugees and migrants are often vilified by politicians and in Polish state media and barred from receiving help, leaving only a dedicated and secretive network of local activists, who risk up to eight years’ prison time, to provide them with aid.To see how conditions in Poland differ for Ukrainian refugees and those coming from countries like Iraq, Sudan and Yemen, Al Jazeera followed two people – one Iraqi Kurd, the other Ukrainian – who both belong to families with young children, for one day. Here are their stories:Hawar Abdalla*: It was just after midnight on March 21.Hawar, a gentle, softly spoken Iraqi Kurd in his early 30s, and the people he was with had found a hole in the border fence and managed to slip into Poland from Belarus in the dead of night.It was the last throes of winter and the snow on the forest floor had melted during the day, leaving a muddy sludge that made it difficult to walk without slipping while making their way through dense forest.The group were in Poland for just 30 minutes before the torchlights of four heavily armed Polish border guards appeared among the trees. She tried to comfort them with some chocolates, but they backed away from her, afraid of the large rifle slung over her shoulder.Tasha Kyshchun: A little over two weeks later, about 500km (311 miles) away, the morning sun streamed through the kitchen skylights in a cosy third-floor apartment on the outskirts of Krakow, Poland’s second-largest city.It was 7:15am on April 8, and Tasha, a petite woman with an elfin face framed by short dark hair, shuffled around the kitchen making breakfast.The 33-year-old prepared cereal with milk for the children and some bread and yoghurt for herself.Seated at a gingham tablecloth-covered table in the kitchen, the family tucked into breakfast.Since fleeing Ukraine, Tasha’s children, Ustyn, seven, Maiia, five, and Solomia, three, have not been sleeping well.They have been wetting the bed, and Solomia has started biting her mother’s arm. Hawar, who had taken responsibility for the fire that had kept them warm during the cold night, had not slept.So when they arrived at the police station in the early morning hours before the sun had risen, he handed over his phone at the request of the officer in charge and immediately fell asleep on the floor.Tasha: Around 8am, Tasha and the children washed the dishes. We have to be considerate,” she says, as she put the plates away and made sure the sink was empty.After spending a few days in Lutsk, Tasha, having read about Russian saboteurs hiding weapons in children’s toys, decided that it was not safe to stay, and sought refuge in Poland on March 3.A Ukrainian friend in Krakow found them a room above a kindergarten in a residential area full of nondescript cream-and-brown houses.Taras stayed in Lutsk, where he cares for his father who has cancer but is unable to get any treatment at the moment. But seeing his sisters adjust has encouraged him to go.Hawar: Hawar had travelled with an Iraqi Kurdish family he met in the forest and attempted his first crossing into Poland with them in November 2021 when thousands of mainly Kurdish refugees and migrants had tried to cross into the European Union from Belarus.During this time, the EU, NATO and the United States had accused Belarus’s authoritarian leader, Alexander Lukashenko, of orchestrating the crisis by encouraging the flow of migrants and refugees as a form of retribution for EU sanctions imposed on the leader after his disputed re-election in 2020 and subsequent crackdown on mass pro-democracy protests.Poland, announcing a state of emergency in the region, hastily created a meandering 3km (1.9-mile) wide exclusion or “red zone” on the border and banned NGO workers and journalists from entering the area.Polish border guards then engaged in pushbacks of people to Belarus. I pray they are punished, and I pray for peace and healing,” Tasha says with anger and sorrow.Hawar: At 10am, Hawar woke to a stern-looking police officer unlocking the door to the room where they had spent the night.In the cold light of day, Hawar took in the bare white walls and a small window that looked onto some railway tracks and a river. Hawar could tell it was written in English and Kurdish languages, but before he could read it, the police officer pulled it away from him.Hawar asked to read it, but again the short, middle-aged officer refused and raised his voice.On March 21, the Bruzgi camp was closed, forcing people, who were notified only a few days in advance, to choose between attempting to cross the border or returning to their homeland.Since Hawar and his adopted family felt returning to Iraq was not an option for them, a day before the camp shut, they set off to try to enter the EU again.Now, in the police station, many in the group grew agitated, fearing that they would be pushed back to the forest. Hawar asked the police officers if they were going to the detention centre, and to his relief, they replied, “yes”.It was around noon, roughly 12 hours after they had entered Poland, when Hawar and his adopted family climbed into the back of military cars that sped off down a nondescript country road.Tasha: Pulling on a light parka over her striped sweater, and a hat over her hair, Tasha cut a forlorn figure as she headed to the refugee reception centre in the middle of Krakow. “I keep telling myself and the children that we’re in a safe place now,” she says.As it was her first free day in a while, Tasha went on a walk around the city. They chatted on video about their day, and the children were also able to see their grandparents.Afterwards, Tasha put on a Ukrainian educational cartoon for the children while she cleaned the communal staircases.Later, if Tasha has time, she’ll check in on Taras again to make sure he’s safe.Hawar: Two rows of fences divided the forested landscape, leaving between them a 100-metre-wide (328 feet) buffer zone, a no-man’s land, where Hawar and his adopted family would be forced to survive on dwindling supplies and drink yellowish water from the streams and rivers.For four months, they had endured life in Bruzgi camp, travelling once a week to a hospital with the two girls for their essential treatment, in the hopes that they could reach the EU.In the end, they were only able to stay a night and a morning in the EU before being left to languish on Poland’s northeastern border.It was mid-afternoon when they were allowed back into Belarus.

As said here by Amandas Ong, Nils Adler