Testimonies: refugee women from Ukraine in Poland

Caritas International Belgium Testimonies: refugee women from Ukraine in Poland

Two weeks after the start of the war in Ukraine, close to two million people have gone into exile outside of Ukraine, in addition to people fleeing within the country. Caritas members in neighboring countries are mobilizing alongside them: Moldova, Romania, Hungary, Slovakia, Bulgaria, Czech Republic… and Poland, where more than one million people have taken refuge[1]. Because most of the men are forced to stay, the large majority are women and children[2]. Meet Zlata, Ludmilla, Inna et Agnjetschka.

Zlata, Photographer: “The images that you see reflect reality. We have to help each other in this terrifying situation”

When the war erupted, Zlata, a young photographer in Kiev, was about to start a new job. Monday, February 28 was supposed to be a new and promising day for her.

Wednesday, February 23, she visits her parents in her hometown, Tchernihiv, in the north of Ukraine. She returns to Kiev with a feeling of anxiety that she fails to explain. The following day, Tuesday, February 24, at five o’clock in the morning, she is woken up by an explosion. Right away, she searches the internet, to find out what happened, but she doesn’t find any information. 10 minutes later, a friend writes to her: the war is here.

After 30 minutes, when she looks out the window, a long line of cars is already preparing to leave Kiev. Her brother calls her and tells her to pack her bags and go to one of the large metro stations in Kiev, Prochaina. Her hometown, where she had to leave her parents the day before, is the target of air raids and her parents must take refuge in underground shelters. Zlata was able to flee to Budomierz, Poland, where she is hosted by friends and looking for a job.

Caritas International Belgium Testimonies: refugee women from Ukraine in PolandZlata’s life changed overnight. Yesterday, she was getting ready to start a new job, today she is a refugee in Poland. – Caritas Poland 

Ludmilla, young mother, and her three children

Ludmilla, 28 years old, mother of Nastia and Konstantin, five year old twins and Victoria, a three month old, are wrapped in thick winter jackets. The family can finally profit from a little bit of rest and warmth in the Caritas tent in Przemyśl, Poland, after five days on the roads to exile. Bringing her daughter’s stroller to the stove to prepare her baby bottle, she reflects on the day where her life changed forever.

It was a Sunday when her and her children left the port city Odessa, in the south of Ukraine. While Russian soldiers march through the city, time is running out. The family boards a train in the direction of Lviv, in the west, to stay with friends. “Every day, I followed the news, I was afraid of having to wait outside at the border with my children, at night, when it is very cold.” Nevertheless, Thursday, she decides to take the chance. An acquaintance leads them to the border and the family rides in a bus for Poland, leaving their old lives behind. Fuel having become rare, the vehicle was not heated, so everyone huddled together. She arrives at the transit center in Przemyśl, where volunteers from Caritas Poland allow those who arrive – a thousand people per day – to eat and rest. Nastia, Konstantin, and Victoria are frozen and hungry. The Caritas staff find them an accommodation for the night at a nearby school. The next day she gets on a mini bus, a shuttle organized by Caritas volunteers to take people in exile to other regions in Poland or to neighboring countries. The children get on quickly. The family is eager to have a bed, at least for tonight. Ludmilla is not sure of what will happen next…

Caritas International Belgium Testimonies: refugee women from Ukraine in PolandLudmilla and her children warming up in a Caritas tent in Przemyśl, Poland – Philipp Spalek/Caritas Germany

Caritas International Belgium Testimonies: refugee women from Ukraine in PolandLudmilla and her three children quickly board a shuttle organized by Caritas Poland – Philipp Spalek/Caritas Germany 

Inna: “We would like to believe that this war will not last a long time”

“At the beginning I could not believe that there would be a war”, testifies Inna. “But afterwards, I opened Instagram and I realized that bombs were raining down on my country”. Inna is from the city Kremenets, in western Ukraine. During the first days of the war, an airport close to the city was bombed. Her friends advised her to go to Poland. She testifies from Przemyśl, in south east Poland, where she is currently… In her exile, she left her parents in Ukraine, as well as her brother and husband who are obliged to stay in the country due to the general mobilization for the army. During their last conversation, they assured her that they were doing well … she hopes that is still the case. “We would like to believe that this war will not last a long time” she says. But the examples she was confronted with during her work do not allow her to think that. “I worked with people originally from the east of Ukraine, who had to migrate within their own country. When they arrived, they also thought they were coming to the west for only a few days. 8 years later, they are still there.”[3]

Caritas International Belgium Testimonies: refugee women from Ukraine in PolandInna left her city of Kremenets, in western Ukraine, after the airport close to her house was bombed. – Philipp Spalek/Caritas Germany

Agnjetschka, volunteer at Caritas Poland: “The fate of Ukrainians could also be ours”

It is six o’clock in the morning and Agnjetschka is already in the kitchen. Since February 24 she sleeps about four hours each night and finishes her days at midnight. Already a volunteer at the Caritas restaurant in Przemyśl station, at the polish border, she immediately offered her help when she heard talk of the Ukrainian war on the radio… with the other volunteers, each day she prepares 1,800 liters of soup and 160 breakfasts, lunches and dinners for the refugees, police, firefighters, border control, paramedics and rescuers. It is like being on an anthill, no one can stay still. The kitchen heats up quickly, the windows are foggy. The volunteers cut vegetables and bread, Agnjetschka fries scrambled eggs in a pan. Everyone who passes in front of the large pots of soup stirs them with the help of a huge ladle.

Agnjetschka’s muscles hurt, her hands are swollen… but she does not complain. That will never prevent her from continuing, she says. Every day she thinks of her son. Every day she imagines what would happen if he was called to fight. “The fate of the Ukrainians could also be ours” she whispers. She does not even want to think about it. She goes back to work… the next order awaits.

Caritas International Belgium Testimonies: refugee women from Ukraine in Poland

Lone women are particularly vulnerable at the risk of human trafficking:

“Many women, with children, arrive at the border, often in the middle of the night, and enter a country they don’t know, where people speak a language they don’t speak” explains Thomas Hackl director of humanitarian action at Caritas Romania. In Romania like in other countries surrounding Ukraine, the risk of human trafficking is very present. Local Caritas organizations are well aware of this and encourage exiled people to remain vigilant. The employees and volunteers are all trained in this regard. “At the border many people are offering their help, notably transportation and free lodging… the large majority of them offer this support with the best intentions, but it is not guaranteed that there aren’t people around them who would try to take advantage of the situation.”

Caritas International Belgium Testimonies: refugee women from Ukraine in PolandA refugee woman takes her child in her arms, at a welcome center for refugees in Korczowa, at the border of Poland and Ukraine. -Philipp Spalek/ Caritas Germany

Caritas International Belgium Testimonies: refugee women from Ukraine in PolandUkrainian refugees spend the night in the gym of a school in Poland. -Philipp Spalek/Caritas Germany

With your support, we can make a difference

Together, we can assure a better chance of survival for victims. In total, Caritas International has already released 130,000 euros in support of the humanitarian response to the Ukrainian crisis. A total of 50,000 euros was released for Caritas in Ukraine as well as another 50,000 for Poland. Caritas Moldova will receive, 30,000 euros.

You can also make the victims of Ukraine understand they are not alone. Make a donation via our online payment platform or on our bank account number BE88 0000 0000 4141 with the message “4147 Ukraine”. Many thanks in advance.

Caritas International participate 12-12 together for saving more lives. To response to this global emergency, Caritas International and the six other members of consortium 12-12 launched a joint appeal for solidarity. Under the banner Ukraine 12-12, this appeal aims to gather the means necessary to intervene with those who need it the most.


UNHCR, Situation Ukraine Refugees, consulted on 09/03/2022.


These are subjective findings. So far there are no official source reporting statistics on this subject.


A war has been going on in the Donbass region since 2014. Caritas has been present there since then.

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