Hrebenne is a Polish village, situated about 70 km from Lviv. Here as many as 20,000 thousand Ukrainian refugees are crossing daily. They arrive in transports, buses or vans; they drive themselves in their own often battered cars or make the trek on foot. From Lviv, Hrebenne is a full day’s walk in freezing temperatures.
At Hrebenne the Knights of Columbus are doing extraordinary work. Marcin Wojciechowski, from Council 15267 in Tomaszów Lubelski, has led the response.
Local councils have provided tents from their own resources. At the refugee welcome camp at Hrebenne the Knights of Columbus have the only heated tent. One family arrived there, the grandmother in tears, having spent 12 days in the freezing cold outside Kyiv.
The family took refuge in their cabin outside the city, but ended up in the crossfire between Ukrainian Defense and Russian forces. Without electricity for days and with supplies running out, they took the risk to flee. When she arrived at the Knights’ warming tent, all she wanted to do was take off the fur coat she had been wearing for a fortnight.
The Knights have prepared a place of welcome. They are on the front lines, making it possible for families to collect themselves as they cross the Polish-Ukrainian border. Their work calls to mind the words of Pope Francis, “The thing the church needs most today is the ability to heal wounds and to warm the hearts of the faithful; it needs nearness, proximity.”
The Knights have worked diligently to meet real needs. They noticed in the first days at the welcome camp that paramedics were taking their bags and treating people as they could, wherever there was space. So the Knights established a collaboration with the medical care team and established a tent for administering emergency medical care. I saw paramedics carry an eight-day-old baby to and from the tent. The timing means the baby had been born during the war. Mother and child were traveling alone, without the baby’s father.
With martial law in place in Ukraine, some of the refugees are older men and women. The overwhelming majority, though, are mothers with their children. The Knights are well prepared to welcome them. They have everything a mother could need: strollers, carriers, diapers, baby wipes, formula and more. They even have toys and chocolates for children.
In the course of the day, we met only one intact Ukrainian family. They had traveled by car to Hrebenne and intended to head for Warsaw. In Warsaw though, the family had a contact for a room for only one night. The children spoke English well and were surprised to meet Americans. They perked up and spoke to us freely. Despite the uncertainty they faced, they were evidently relieved to have arrived in Poland and to have escaped the violence in Ukraine.