Letters from Lviv, Ukraine – MEP Erik Marquardt visits the Polish-Ukrainian border

The humanitarian consequences of Putin’s war on Ukraine have been devastating. Almost three million people have fled their homes to seek safety in the EU. Since the war began, 75,000 children a day have become refugees, according to the United Nations (UN). Greens/EFA MEP Erik Marquardt visited the border between Ukraine and Poland in early March to find out about the situation on the ground.

The first thing I saw, driving to the border crossing point of Kroscienko in Poland, was a long queue of cars and vans. Hundreds of them. All waiting to bring donations to Ukraine.

Standing at the border, a steady stream of women, children and elderly people were arriving on foot. Most of them were waiting for relatives or friends to pick them up. A makeshift reception tent was handing out hot tea, food and essentials. People told me about their long journeys on trains, buses and in cars – often over several days – within Ukraine. And five to six hour waits – on that day – in the cold to enter the European Union. Just to be safe.

Goodbye at the EU border – families separated by Putin’s war

As I went further north to the border crossing of Medyka, I saw more and more people. They were waiting for buses to transport them to the closest town. Kind volunteers were offering a very basic welcome. Despite the cold, people were waiting outside (including little babies and young mothers) without access to any trustworthy information.

A young woman with a 2-year-old girl told me how her husband, a police officer in Ukraine, had driven her to the border.  She then crossed the border walking with a stroller in one hand, a suitcase in the other and a backpack on her heavy shoulders. She told me she was waiting for her sister to pick her up. The mother was exhausted after a three day trip, but still had a two day car ride to her sister’s house ahead of her. Her husband had to remain in the Ukraine. All able-bodied men between the ages of 18 and 60 must stay behind to fight against Putin. HoweverThis family was not a rare sight: I witnessed too many fathers taking their wives and children to the train station before going back to the war.

What happens when you make it across the Polish border?

Those getting on the bus arrive at the Polish town of Przemyśl, where an empty department store acts as a first reception facility. The parking lot is bustling with vehicles and volunteers giving out donations. Inside, people are trying to rest. There is no privacy and very limited hygiene facilities. And, there is also almost no control over who enters a building full of young women and small children.

All the people who told me their stories came to Poland via the city of Lviv. Their journey to a safe place begins there, where trains bring refugees from the war-torn cities of Ukraine into the European Union. Lviv is where I was heading.

On the way to Lviv, I crossed many military checkpoints guarded by armed men. At Lviv’s train station, the crowd was tense and the situation was desperate. I saw a family attempting to carry a paralysed family member off the train without medical staff. Young children who  had a safe home until a few days ago were now on the floor of the station.

Driving back towards the border, a line of cars kilometres long were waiting to cross into Poland. I spent one night in the queue watching people arrive. Watching men saying goodbye to their wives, mothers and children or trying to negotiate access to the border crossing with soldiers.

Russia’s war against Ukraine – why the EU must step up solidarity

This war of aggression has been going for less than one month and already over three million people have fled Ukraine to seek refuge from Putin’s bombs.

More refugees will be coming and the EU needs to be ready to receive them. European countries recently agreed to activate the Temporary Protection Directive which gives refugees from Ukraine the right to a temporary residence permit in the EU for at least one year. It is our job now to ensure to take care of those arriving.

What we need to do to make sure Ukrainian refugees are welcomed to the EU:

  • EU member states to make generous reception pledges to welcome them
  • the EU to quickly allocate funds to those who welcome refugees
  • a European mechanism that will allow us to fairly distribute refugees who do not yet know where to go

Most of all, we need to use this momentum to show that we stand in solidarity with those fleeing war and persecution irrespective of where they are from.

What can you do?

What is the Temporary Protection Directive (TPD)?

The Temporary Protection Directive (TPD) is an EU law that grants temporary protection to people fleeing situations of crisis. It is intended for use in cases when a sudden influx of people arrive in the EU, like the millions of refugees currently escaping from Ukraine. The law was introduced in 2001 and has just been activated for the first time in 20 years. In practical terms, this means that refugees from Ukraine will have the right to a temporary residence permit in the EU for at least one year (with a possible two-year extension), access to the labour market, education for minors and basic healthcare.