LUBLIN, Poland — Even before the pastor of Lublin’s Sacred Heart of Jesus parish announced the need for families to host Ukrainian refugees, Stanislawa Wieprzowska went to the sacristy to tell the priest she had room for four people in her three-room apartment.
“If they flee, they need an accommodation. It goes without saying,” she told a reporter.
Born in 1938, Wieprzowska grew up in Katowice during World War II and said she remembers the extreme hunger Poles experienced back then.
Another parishioner, Anna, offered her home a few days later, taking in Tanja, her daughter and infant son.
They arrived in Lublin March 15 after a two-day train trip.
“The children were so tired,” said Anna, a widow, who has two grown children and worked as a preschool teacher.
Anna was living alone in a two-bedroom apartment close to the railway station. When she hears a train whistle, she said, it reminds her of the “Children of Zamojszczyzna,” a German Nazi program to take Polish children away from their parents as part of a planned mass relocation, now recognized as an attempt at the ethnic cleansing of the region. Many of the children were taken to concentration or labor camps in Germany.
In Polish accounts, the train engineers would give a special signal when approaching cities and towns so that the townspeople would know a train with children was approaching and families would come out to save them. Although Anna was born after the war, said she had met survivors and had seen their pain. Now, she wants to help Ukrainian children.
After ensuring the refugees’ initial needs were met, the parish priest, Father Waldemar Sadecki, began meeting with the refugees and their host families March 20 to learn what else they need and to give them an opportunity to share their experiences.
“We gave them new clothes, a place to stay, now we need to help them to start their new lives, so they don’t feel unwanted,” he said.
The parish, founded in 1934, has a long history of outreach. During World War II, the first pastor, Father Ignacy Zyszkiewicz, was active with the Polish Red Cross and distributed parcels with food and hidden consecrated hosts to the prisoners at the nearby Majdanek Nazi consecration camp.
Some Ukrainian immigrants were living in the neighborhood before the Russian invasion sent millions fleeing; they now help Father Sadecki communicate with the refugees. “Without their help, we cannot do anything. They know their language and culture,” he said.
Helping the refugees find jobs is another priority and one that already is finding some success.
Monika, the assistant manager of the neighborhood Vitalcentrum, a pharmacy, has been involved in volunteer work since high school and knew there was more they could do for the refugees.
“Our Ania has children,” Monika said, referring to one of the newcomers. “She has to feed them. Because she worked in a drug store in Ukraine, I thought we should hire her. I convinced my boss that this a help we need and which we can give her.”
Ania, a pharmacist, fled from Kryvyi Rih in central Ukraine with her 16-year-old son and 9-year-old daughter. She is working as a pharmacy assistant at Vitalcentrum, translating Ukrainian prescriptions and helping Ukrainian customers until she can return home or until Poland recognizes her pharmacy degree.
She arrived in Poland with just a small bag. Monika said she asked her why she did not bring more clothes.
“She replied that a suitcase meant a place for one more person,” Monika said.