For three weeks, Jean Marchal, a volunteer at Secours Populaire, went to Poland at the gate to the Ukrainian border. A journey for solidarity.
“As soon as there is an armed conflict, you have to be present for the people on the ground. That is the role of Secours Populaire,” said Jean Marchal, administrator and volunteer for 30 years in the association. He is mainly responsible for the development of solidarity in the countries of Central and Eastern Europe. Cadurcien since retirement, he returned from three weeks in Poland, on the verge of conflict.
An organized solidarity center
Two Secours Populaire teams have been sent to the Ukrainian borders: one in Romania and Moldova, the other in Poland. Jean Marchal is part of this second group, accompanied by Jean-Louis Rolland. Faithful companions on humanitarian voyages (Chechnya, ex-Yugoslavia …), they traveled on March 22 to Przemysl, a Polish city located 12 km from Ukraine.
Every day they were in the field. In this TESCO (supermarket – Ed. Note) converted into a reception center, 15,000 m.2 is organized: registration, medical care, food, beds … All in the best possible way to accommodate the refugees. “It’s mostly women, with a bundle and their children. Sometimes people with disabilities. They arrive on foot through the Medyka funnel,” depicts Jean Marchal. At the start of his journey, about 2,000 refugees arrived daily. During the last five days, they were only about twenty. “Many stay in Ukraine. Especially the elderly who hold on even when their house is bombed, he says. Something that struck me was seeing these people arrive with their dogs. The animals are a landmark for them. In the center was there a room of 1,000 m2 filled with pills. “
Today, 1,500 refugees live in the Polish center. “They hope the war will end soon to return to Ukraine. But we do not know how long it will last,” breathes Jean Marchal.
On-site, Secours Populaire’s primary mission is to identify material needs (such as strollers), as food aid is organized by Europe through the European Fund for Aid to the Needy. The association chooses financial donations: “There we find a partner, a reliable association. Our role is then to finance the necessary”, explains Jean Marchal. In Poland, the PKPS organizes solidarity at the Ukrainian borders, an association that helps the elderly, the disabled and the homeless. “Often the volunteers said to me: we were not created for that, but in a hurry we get there“,” said Jean Marchal. “We allowed them to buy seven laundries, women’s and children’s hygiene kits, medicines … Everything is procured on site to best meet the needs,” says the volunteer. 75,000 euros have already been made in Poland , another slightly larger envelope is being prepared.The donations are similar in Moldova and Romania.
The two Secours Populaire volunteers did not just stay in Poland. “We had to check that the humanitarian corridors were well secured, to be sure that the food aid actually reached the Ukrainian cities,” explains Jean Marchal. Accompanied by their Ukrainian interpreter, Hanna, they traveled through several cities in the country at war. They met mayors, hospital directors, but also visited schools. “They are all closed. In Truskawiec (40 km from Lviv – Editor’s note) one of them has become a dormitory. With beds, canteen, but also fitness center. The teachers have become volunteers in these centers”, testifies the pensioner . .
“The Polish families hosting refugees (around 2,500 at the moment) are starting to run out of steam. The conflict is ongoing, they are scared and want to be sure that they will continue to be helped by their government,” Jean said. Marchal. government, which itself seeks the lasting support of the European Community.
During his journey, Jean Marchal noticed deep wounds, especially among Ukrainian children. “Their fathers stayed in the war. The little ones are starting to develop mental symptoms,” warns the volunteer. During the next Secours Populaire campaign with PKPS, psychological assistance will be put in place to listen to these children in the Przemysl reception center. One problem arises: you have to find Ukrainian professionals in order not to get stuck in the language barrier.
Back in France since April 13, Jean Marchal’s solidarity work is not over. Secours Populaire Français is developing a larger partnership with PKPS to continue supporting them for as long as necessary.