Oleg, a weary man with a visibly swollen right leg that he struggled to keep upright while sitting, shared his story. At the age of 61, in April 2022, he arrived in Poland with the sole purpose of delivering some personal belongings to his ex-wife's relatives, who had also fled Ukraine. Initially, he had no intention of staying in Poland. However, circumstances led him to remain in the country.
For two months, Oleg stayed in Rzeszow before eventually relocating to Krakow, where he stumbled upon an opportunity for shelter. He later ventured to the Czech Republic, where he took up work at a construction site, but his declining health conditions forced him to abandon his employment after just one month and returned to Krakow. Oleg's health took a dire turn in Poland necessitating emergency heart surgeries. In August 2023, he underwent two heart surgeries and endured three hospitalisations.
"If I were still in Ukraine, I would not have survived. In Kharkiv, I could not have afforded these operations and they would have been extremely expensive. Here, I received these services for free provided by polish public healthcare system I am profoundly grateful for this second chance in life” - tells Oleg.
Support provided at the Community Center
Oleg, like many other refugees, faced difficulties with understanding the Polish legal system and her rights and obligations as a refugee. This is how he met the members of Internationaler Bund Polska (IBP) while conducting an outreach information provision session in temporary accommodations for Ukrainian refugees in Krakow. After completing the assessment that took place in Community Center ‘Open Place’ in Krakow IBP provided Oleg with life essential medicine that would allow him to stabilise his heart condition. One-month course of this medicine would prepare him for the third surgery. Oleg also received a legal advice from lawyers at Community Center as he had unresolved property matters back in Ukraine.
A Quest for a new purpose
Adapting to a new reality has been challenging and even more difficult for Oleg as the war in Ukraine took its tragic toll on his children and wife. His health and wellbeing is influenced by the uncertainty that is now a condition of life that he shares with millions of Ukrainians impacted and displaced by the ongoing war. While his application for a disability certificate in Poland was still pending, Oleg tirelessly sought a simple job, such as that of a security guard, in order to rediscover his sense of purpose. He actively scoured for employment opportunities and hoped to enhance his grasp of the Polish language launched at Open Place.
Krakow Community Center – Open Place
Kraków's Open Place community centre is a place where Ukrainian refugees and those of other nationalities can receive support.
The centre - run by UNHCR and DRC in partnership with local NGOs: Zustrich, IBP and Salam Lab offers access to information, psychosocial support for children and adults, legal aid and individual protection assistance. Refugees can also participate in various activities for different age groups, like Polish and English language courses which are in high demand.
The Open Place Krakow community centre was opened in May 2023 in the presence of local authorities, representatives of relevant public institutions, UNHCR and members of Krakow’s civil society and NGO representatives.
*Name changed to protect the identity of the interviewee
DRC activities in Poland since the Ukraine displacement crisis are funded by UNHCR