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Worlds apart: 24 hours with two refugees in Poland | Russia-Ukraine war | NEWSRUX

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For the reason that battle in Ukraine began on February 24, greater than three million Ukrainians have fled throughout the border to Poland. The Polish state and society mobilised quickly to make sure that Ukrainian refugees had been made to really feel welcome.

Ukrainians are entitled to obtain an preliminary 300 zloty ($67) stipend and may register for a nationwide identification quantity (PESEL) that allows them to entry the identical healthcare and academic providers as Polish nationals. Ukrainians even have the proper to work and are supplied free housing for no less than two months.

However they don’t seem to be the one refugees in Poland.

Within the east of the nation, alongside the roughly 400km (249-mile) lengthy Polish-Belarusian border, asylum seekers, refugees and migrants are trapped in a forested space patrolled by border guards. After they make it out, they’re typically taken to detention centres or pushed again to Belarus.

Non-Ukrainian refugees and migrants are sometimes vilified by politicians and in Polish state media and barred from receiving assist, leaving solely a devoted and secretive community of native activists, who danger as much as eight years’ jail time, to supply them with help.

To see how circumstances in Poland differ for Ukrainian refugees and people coming from nations like Iraq, Sudan and Yemen, Al Jazeera adopted two individuals – one Iraqi Kurd, the opposite Ukrainian – who each belong to households with younger youngsters, for someday. Listed here are their tales:

The early hours of the morning

Hawar Abdalla*: It was simply after midnight on March 21.

Hawar, a mild, softly spoken Iraqi Kurd in his early 30s, and the individuals he was with had discovered a gap within the border fence and managed to slide into Poland from Belarus at nighttime.

It was the final throes of winter and the snow on the forest ground had melted through the day, leaving a muddy sludge that made it troublesome to stroll with out slipping whereas making their manner via dense forest.

The group had been in Poland for simply half-hour earlier than the torchlights of 4 closely armed Polish border guards appeared among the many timber. Hawar and the others crouched on the bottom, however a beam of sunshine quickly discovered them, and a voice shouted: “We see you.”

An illustration of a forest at night with a guard looking through it with a flashlight and a person wearing a winter coat stands between the trees.
[Richard Smith/Al Jazeera]

Earlier than the crossing, Hawar had felt optimistic. If their group of 12, together with six youngsters, remained quiet and moved slowly, he believed they stood an opportunity of evading detection.

However because the guards approached, Hawar felt the identical wave of unhappiness and disappointment as when he had been caught and pushed again to Belarus throughout his first and solely different border crossing try 4 months in the past.

He started to cry quietly. By stopping the refugees, the border guards “ended my desires, particularly my dream of reaching Europe”, he says.

At the hours of darkness, the stony-faced guards had been an intimidating sight. The condensation from their breath blended with the brilliant lights of their torches as they instructed the group to attend for the police.

One feminine guard gave the impression to be moved by the sight of the crying younger youngsters. She tried to consolation them with some goodies, however they backed away from her, afraid of the massive rifle slung over her shoulder.

Tasha Kyshchun: Somewhat over two weeks later, about 500km (311 miles) away, the morning solar streamed via the kitchen skylights in a comfy third-floor condo on the outskirts of Krakow, Poland’s second-largest metropolis.

It was 7:15am on April 8, and Tasha, a petite lady with an elfin face framed by brief darkish hair, shuffled across the kitchen making breakfast.

The 33-year-old ready cereal with milk for the youngsters and a few bread and yoghurt for herself.

Seated at a gingham tablecloth-covered desk within the kitchen, the household tucked into breakfast.

Since fleeing Ukraine, Tasha’s youngsters, Ustyn, seven, Maiia, 5, and Solomia, three, haven’t been sleeping effectively.

They’ve been wetting the mattress, and Solomia has began biting her mom’s arm. Tasha thinks she is pressured after the traumatic transfer however is just too younger to articulate her emotions correctly.

An illustration of three people sitting at a table, two of them children and two Ukrainian flags in the background.
[Richard Smith/Al Jazeera]

Earlier than Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Tasha had been consumed by a way of foreboding. From early February, she and her husband Taras, 37, who each run a kindergarten in Sofiyivska Borschagivka, a village in northwestern Ukraine, had been practising battle drills with their college students and workers.

The youngsters discovered it enjoyable to cover within the basement. “For them, it was a sport. However two of our lecturers, who fled from Donetsk and Luhansk when combating began there in 2014, discovered it very painful. After the drills, they might take some drugs to relax,” she recollects.

On the morning of the invasion, Russian bombs began falling close to their dwelling. “We had been scared and shocked. Though we had ready for it, we couldn’t consider that Putin could be so silly to begin this battle,” she says.

Residing near a navy airfield, which they believed could be a Russian goal, the couple determined to depart for Taras’s mother and father’ dwelling in Lutsk in western Ukraine.

They instructed the youngsters they had been taking a brief journey. Whereas Taras coated the condo home windows with tape, Tasha and the youngsters packed their baggage with simply two units of clothes every. “Ustyn knew what was occurring greater than the women,” she says. “His palms shook when he helped to hold our issues to the automobile.”

Hawar: When two cops arrived in black tops and navy camouflage trousers, the youngsters and girls cried, begging them to allow them to go.

Two males within the group started to problem the border guards’ orders to comply with the police. One guard misplaced his mood and began shouting, twigs cracking below his heavy boots as he moved in direction of them.

Hawar, who had the perfect grasp of English within the group and was translating for the others, suspected that the guard was near beating the 2 males.

With a peaceful manner, he persuaded the lads to conform.

Giving approach to resignation and fatigue, the group made their approach to a bus that had arrived at a close-by street.

Hawar, his distinct curly-haired quiff unchanged regardless of an evening sleeping tough, clutched the belongings he needed to see him via the time within the forest. He had some dates, chocolate, bread, three apples, a number of small water bottles, and a sleeping bag.

The group had spent a day and an evening within the forest earlier than discovering a gap within the border fences. Hawar, who had taken duty for the fireplace that had stored them heat through the chilly night time, had not slept.

So after they arrived on the police station within the early morning hours earlier than the solar had risen, he handed over his cellphone on the request of the officer in cost and instantly fell asleep on the ground.

Tasha: Round 8am, Tasha and the youngsters washed the dishes. “I remind them that this isn’t our home. Now we have to be thoughtful,” she says, as she put the plates away and made certain the sink was empty.

After spending a number of days in Lutsk, Tasha, having examine Russian saboteurs hiding weapons in youngsters’s toys, determined that it was not protected to remain, and sought refuge in Poland on March 3.

A Ukrainian good friend in Krakow discovered them a room above a kindergarten in a residential space stuffed with nondescript cream-and-brown homes.

Taras stayed in Lutsk, the place he cares for his father who has most cancers however is unable to get any remedy in the mean time. He spends his days volunteering, delivering necessities to those that have taken up arms with Ukraine’s Territorial Defence Forces.

An illustration of a woman holding a child's shoulder near a white door.
[Richard Smith/Al Jazeera]

After tidying, Maiia and Solomia, who attend the kindergarten one ground down, kissed their mom earlier than heading inside.

A fortnight after arriving in Poland, the top instructor provided them locations within the class. Their classmates drew a paper dove within the colors of the Ukrainian flag and caught it to the door to welcome them.

Solomia, the youngest baby in her class and initially shy, warmed to her friends after they celebrated her birthday. Maiia, who’s extra gregarious, has been fast to make new pals.

Ustyn’s college is a 20-minute stroll away. Studious and shy, he was so anxious about being in a brand new setting that he discovered it troublesome to go to high school within the first two weeks after enrollment. “I didn’t need to pressure him,” Tasha says. However seeing his sisters modify has inspired him to go.

Hawar: Hawar had travelled with an Iraqi Kurdish household he met within the forest and tried his first crossing into Poland with them in November 2021 when hundreds of primarily Kurdish refugees and migrants had tried to cross into the European Union from Belarus.

Throughout this time, the EU, NATO and america had accused Belarus’s authoritarian chief, Alexander Lukashenko, of orchestrating the disaster by encouraging the circulation of migrants and refugees as a type of retribution for EU sanctions imposed on the chief after his disputed re-election in 2020 and subsequent crackdown on mass pro-democracy protests.

Poland, asserting a state of emergency within the area, swiftly created a meandering 3km (1.9-mile) extensive exclusion or “purple zone” on the border and banned NGO employees and journalists from coming into the world.

Polish border guards then engaged in pushbacks of individuals to Belarus. Belarusian guards typically beat migrants and refugees and compelled them again into Poland, leaving them in limbo, continuously with out meals and necessities. Not less than 19 individuals have died within the forest for the reason that standoff started. Most froze to loss of life.

In December, the disaster appeared to dissipate as individuals had been allowed out of the “purple zone” and again into Belarus with some repatriation flights organised by the Iraqi authorities.

However for Hawar and plenty of others, returning dwelling was “not an choice”.

He says he fears political retribution if he returns to the Kurdish area of Iraq as a consequence of his criticism of the ruling elites over a scarcity of employment alternatives brought on largely by political corruption and nepotism.

“I can’t settle for that I needs to be afraid of my very own ideas and instructed the best way to dwell,” he says.

In 2005, the Kurdish area of Iraq was recognised as an autonomous area below the Kurdistan Regional Authorities (KRG) after a long time of political unrest and brutal repression, together with the 1988 Anfal genocide, the place no less than 100,000 Kurds, primarily civilians, had been killed by Saddam Hussein’s troops.

Right now, regardless of being wealthy in oil wealth, the area suffers from a excessive unemployment price (round 24 p.c for males between the ages of 15 and 29) whereas authorities staff can go months with out being paid wages. Civilians are killed “in the event that they categorical dissatisfaction”, Hawar says, referring to brutal crackdowns in opposition to individuals protesting in opposition to corruption and unpaid wages. “In the meantime, politicians and their households proceed to extend their wealth.”

However staying in Belarus meant the beginning of an arduous 4 months in a Bruzgi logistics facility – overcrowded, squalid non permanent housing arrange by the federal government, the place roughly 1,500 individuals slept in assigned areas amongst rows of pallet racks in a warehouse.

Within the camp, Hawar grew to become near a household – consisting of fogeys, a cousin and three women – with whom he has now tried two crossings. He says they’ve turn into an adopted household to him.

“We’re not associated by blood, however we are actually all a household right here, so we is not going to go away one another,” he says.

“The ladies are like my sisters or daughters,” Hawar says, his fondness for them evident as he describes their personalities as bubbly, pleasant and sometimes naughty. “They’re blissful women. They’re at all times enjoying and singing, particularly, the ram sam sam music they discovered within the camp.”

Two of the women, aged 4 and 6, have a uncommon and critical progressive medical situation that causes tissues and organs to enlarge, turn into infected or scarred, and ultimately waste away, leading to early loss of life. The ladies require weekly medical remedy and, unable to afford their specialised healthcare, the household felt compelled to depart their homeland to attempt to entry remedy in Europe.

Regardless of the monotony and discomfort of their environment, Hawar and his adopted household created a brand new life for themselves.

An illustration of people, both children and adults, sitting in a circle on the floor with a wall of cubbies with children sitting in them on both sides of the image..
[Richard Smith/Al Jazeera]

Hawar grew to become a volunteer instructor alongside United Nations Youngsters’s Fund employees allowed to entry the camp. “It was very tiring,” he says. “It was six hours day by day of educating, nevertheless it was so good for me, and it was necessary to be busy.”

The makeshift college that Hawar and 5 different volunteers created provided courses in psychology, maths, English, singing, dancing and portray. Vibrant photos painted and drawn by the youngsters coated the classroom partitions.

Hawar grew to become often called “mamosta Hawar”, instructor Hawar in Kurdish, a nickname that the women nonetheless use when referring to him. Each time he and the volunteers went across the camp, the youngsters hugged them.

Tasha: At 9am, Tasha began to wash the bed room. The bedding is brightly patterned and youngsters’s garments with cartoon prints sit piled in a nook.

“I cried day by day for the primary two weeks,” she says, in a measured tone. “However I strive to not do it in entrance of the youngsters. It’s not good for them.”

Right now is a uncommon day without work. Normally, a number of of the youngsters is just too anxious for college or down with a chilly, or she has to settle administrative paperwork equivalent to her household’s PESEL software.

Final week, Tasha earned some cash cleansing the home windows of a Polish acquaintance. Work isn’t simple to come back by, particularly with so many Ukrainians within the nation now, and fewer jobs than there are individuals.

Tasha is hesitant to conform to a longer-term function. She desperately hopes that the household can return dwelling by the summer season, and in addition doesn’t need to deprive another person of the chance to work.

Most Ukrainian refugees are ladies and youngsters, and the Polish parliament virtually unanimously adopted a brand new legislation to assist them by giving every baby 500 zloty ($111) monthly. Tasha hasn’t but utilized for these advantages, as she’d like her household to proceed supporting themselves.

For now, they’re dwelling as thriftily as attainable off their financial savings, which that they had been hoping to make use of for his or her first household vacation to Egypt. Earlier than the battle, Tasha and Taras had been collectively making round 50,000 Ukrainian hryvnia ($1,700) monthly from their kindergarten enterprise, non-public classes and weekend celebration planning for younger youngsters. The couple labored 12 hours a day, together with weekends, however Tasha hardly ever felt prefer it was exhausting. “I actually liked what we had,” she says.

They’re nonetheless paying their workers their salaries, however with no jobs, the monetary pressure of their state of affairs is looming over them.

Tasha is saddened when she thinks of her kindergarteners, a lot of whom are nonetheless in Ukraine. One of many women she taught has a father who was combating to liberate town of Bucha and has not been in touch with him for 3 weeks. “I cry loads once I consider her,” she says.

Round 10am, Tasha went on social media, figuring out individuals in Ukraine who want every kind of help – be it securing a spot to remain exterior of the nation, or getting important provides – and directing them to her community of contacts in and in another country.

The information is at all times horrible when she reads it. The Russian military is accused of raping and killing greater than 400 civilians in Bucha – simply 50km (31 miles) away from the household’s hometown – and surrounding cities in March. “I’ve many pals in Bucha, and I really feel concern that the identical factor may occur to our village. Once I discovered concerning the ladies and women who’d been raped, I couldn’t describe my feelings. They [the Russian army] are simply creatures, not individuals. I pray they’re punished, and I pray for peace and therapeutic,” Tasha says with anger and sorrow.

Hawar: At 10am, Hawar woke to a stern-looking police officer unlocking the door to the room the place that they had spent the night time.

Within the chilly gentle of day, Hawar took within the naked white partitions and a small window that seemed onto some railway tracks and a river. It was freezing chilly, and the group had huddled collectively on the ground. They’d been introduced a rice dish through the night time, however nobody may determine what it contained, and the youngsters refused to eat extra after tasting it.

The darkish gray tracksuit and jacket that Hawar wore hung unfastened on his often stocky body. He had misplaced 10kg (22lbs) within the Bruzgi camp.

The police officer led them right into a dank hallway the place he positioned an official doc up in opposition to the wall and instructed all of them to “signal it”. Hawar may inform it was written in English and Kurdish languages, however earlier than he may learn it, the police officer pulled it away from him.

Hawar requested to learn it, however once more the brief, middle-aged officer refused and raised his voice.

On March 21, the Bruzgi camp was closed, forcing individuals, who had been notified just a few days prematurely, to decide on between making an attempt to cross the border or returning to their homeland.

Since Hawar and his adopted household felt returning to Iraq was not an choice for them, a day earlier than the camp shut, they set off to attempt to enter the EU once more.

Now, within the police station, many within the group grew agitated, fearing that they might be pushed again to the forest. They begged to be taken to a detention centre the place they may probably start an asylum course of. The officer grew more and more indignant.

After making an attempt to learn the doc a number of occasions, Hawar and the opposite adults felt that they had no choice however to signal it. They weren’t capable of learn its contents. Later, they might discover out that the doc said that that they had agreed to be returned to the Belarusian border.

An hour later, navy automobiles arrived on the police station to gather Hawar and different detainees who weren’t a part of their group. Hawar requested the cops in the event that they had been going to the detention centre, and to his aid, they replied, “sure”.

It was round midday, roughly 12 hours after that they had entered Poland, when Hawar and his adopted household climbed into the again of navy automobiles that sped off down a nondescript nation street.

Afternoon

Tasha: Pulling on a light-weight parka over her striped sweater, and a hat over her hair, Tasha lower a forlorn determine as she headed to the refugee reception centre in the course of Krakow. She hoped to get a tube of toothpaste and a few juice for the youngsters. “Taras and I made a decision to provide most of what we had – together with our toothpaste – to the Ukrainian military,” she tells me.

On the tram, Tasha heard Ukrainian being spoken. Ukrainian refugees can take transport totally free across the nation if they’ve a stamp on their passports exhibiting they arrived after February 24.

Tv screens on public transport displayed translations of easy phrases in Polish and Ukrainian – a bid by the authorities to assist refugees really feel extra at dwelling. However this doesn’t make Tasha really feel any higher; it solely aggravates her sense of being marooned in a international land.

Over the course of the day, Tasha expressed her gratitude for the Polish state and its individuals, though she is apprehensive about their generosity tapering off. “I believe they’re giving greater than they’ll afford to. As soon as individuals see that we may be right here for a very long time, they’ll get sick of it. It’s solely regular,” she says.

Somewhat after noon, Tasha had collected the few objects she wanted and left the reception centre. If she needs a sizzling meal, there are eating places across the metropolis offering meals for Ukrainian refugees, however she prefers to prepare dinner at dwelling when she’s hungry.

A automobile blared its horn loudly on the road, making Tasha bounce. Loud sounds have scared her for the reason that battle started. She says that Maiia can also be petrified of planes, believing that they’re Russian plane despatched to kill them. “I maintain telling myself and the youngsters that we’re in a protected place now,” she says.

Because it was her first free day shortly, Tasha went on a stroll across the metropolis. It was sunny and heat, and the streets bustled with lunchtime crowds as Tasha wandered round. The information on her cellphone didn’t work correctly so she bought misplaced and was continuously disoriented. On weekends, Ustyn and Maiia take duty for navigating.

Taras referred to as her briefly. On video, he confirmed her a mattress coated with attire and provides that he deliberate to drive to the Territorial Defence Forces. Driving between cities is often harmful as automobiles can come below assault, one thing Tasha prefers not to consider. “I’ve a really energetic creativeness,” she says, laughing nervously.

At 4pm, Tasha picked Ustyn up from college. He was in good spirits, exhibiting her a comic book strip he had drawn. “Right now I attempted a brand new sort of bread, and I learnt the Polish phrase for ‘milk’,” he instructed her as they walked dwelling.

They arrived dwelling, choosing up the women alongside the way in which.

Hawar: Relieved and exhausted, Hawar and his adopted household had been relaxed because the automobiles made their manner alongside the bumpy nation roads. Lower than half-hour later, Hawar noticed the border fences flanked by razor wire and the well-beaten footpath patrolled by border guards. He realised that the cops had lied to them.

A crushing sense of disappointment and anger gave approach to panic. Individuals started to cry. The three women, often so assured and playful, fell silent; they understood that they had been all heading again to the chilly, damp forest.

A police officer shouted on the group to get out of the automobiles, however they refused, asking to be taken to a detention centre. As a substitute, the officer pulled a person in his 60s out of the automobile by his legs. He landed on the ground in ache; his spouse remained crying within the automobile.

“Get out of the automobiles, or we’ll pressure you out,” shouted the policeman.

At this level, everybody realised that they must do what they had been instructed. They stepped onto the muddy floor. The policeman handed them copies of the paperwork that they had been compelled to signal, together with their telephones, earlier than aggressively directing them right into a slim no-man’s land on the border.

Night

Tasha: Again within the kitchen, dinner consisted of fried fish and tomato soup supplied by the kindergarten for everybody within the condo.

At dinner, the youngsters pulled books from the cabinets. Most of those books had been donated and had been in Polish or French. The youngsters didn’t perceive the tales, so they only made sounds whereas pointing to the illustrations, or mentioned the names of objects in Ukrainian. Ustyn loved engaged on the few Ukrainian textbooks his mom had introduced from dwelling.

An illustration of a woman sitting in a chair in front of three beds with children in them.
[Richard Smith/Al Jazeera]

Tasha packed the leftovers and put them within the freezer. They’ll eat these for days, cautious to not waste any meals. “All Ukrainians learn about Holodomor. Not ending our meals is a sin,” Tasha says, referring to the Nice Famine of 1932-1933 that killed thousands and thousands of individuals in Soviet Ukraine.

Taras rang at 5:30pm. There was no air raid siren as we speak, so he may name his household as he didn’t must be in a shelter, the place reception is poor. They chatted on video about their day, and the youngsters had been additionally capable of see their grandparents.

Afterwards, Tasha placed on a Ukrainian academic cartoon for the youngsters whereas she cleaned the communal staircases.

Later, if Tasha has time, she’ll examine in on Taras once more to ensure he’s protected.

Hawar: Two rows of fences divided the forested panorama, leaving between them a 100-metre-wide (328 ft) buffer zone, a no-man’s land, the place Hawar and his adopted household could be compelled to outlive on dwindling provides and drink yellowish water from the streams and rivers.

For 4 months, that they had endured life in Bruzgi camp, travelling as soon as per week to a hospital with the 2 women for his or her important remedy, within the hopes that they may attain the EU.

Ultimately, they had been solely capable of keep an evening and a morning within the EU earlier than being left to languish on Poland’s northeastern border.

It was mid-afternoon after they had been allowed again into Belarus. The Belarusian border guards understood that the household wouldn’t final lengthy in the event that they didn’t get some meals and relaxation so, in a uncommon show of sympathy, they organised transport to a sprawling navy base close by. The navy personnel on the base paid little consideration to the exhausted household; they assumed they might both return to Minsk and be repatriated or return to the border space the place Belarusian guards, as a part of what was dubbed a marketing campaign of “hybrid warfare” in opposition to Poland, proceed to permit refugees and migrants in.

Within the early night, a automobile arrived to take them to Minsk, however the household requested to be dropped off at a small nation home in a village close to town of Grodno within the nation’s west. Hawar had managed to rearrange a brief rental from an area contact he had met on the camp with the little cash he nonetheless had.

They knew they couldn’t keep lengthy within the nation. The six-month Belarus visa that that they had bought within the KRG was as a consequence of expire in a few weeks.

The youngsters’s father, who was in his early 30s, was affected by extreme kidney ache attributable to dehydration by the point they arrived and needed to be helped to mattress. Hawar, drained and disheartened, mustered the little power he had to assist prepare dinner some meals. After consuming, nonetheless sporting soiled garments, someday earlier than midnight, everybody fell asleep.

Tasha: The youngsters had a candy bedtime snack – a convention within the Kyshchun family. Then they took a bathe and bought prepared for mattress.

It was almost 8pm. Earlier than studying the youngsters a bedtime story, Tasha requested them to speak concerning the issues they had been grateful for within the day, and the way they will help different individuals in want.

The youngsters had been excited to go to an occasion in a park the next day.

Together with different volunteers, they might be cleansing the park as a gesture of appreciation to Poles for receiving them with open arms.

After placing the youngsters to mattress, Tasha had some quiet time to herself. It had been a protracted day, and he or she seemed a bit weary, however she nonetheless wore an expression of decided optimism. She reminded herself to recount the little issues which have introduced her pleasure. “I inform myself this received’t be perpetually,” she says. “We’ll go dwelling sometime.”

Hawar: After a two-day respite, Hawar and his adopted household returned to the buffer zone solely after Belarusian border guards had aggressively pushed the lads within the group and hit them with closed fists. Guards searched the group, taking any cash they discovered.

They spent eight days there, interesting to Polish border guards on the opposite aspect of the fence to allow them to via as their restricted provides ran out. Within the chilly, damp setting, the youngsters’s medical situation started to worsen. With out sufficient meals or water, they discovered it troublesome to maneuver and spent day and night time of their tents.

Hawar pleaded with the Polish guards for meals and water, however they had been detached, even laughing at them. By the eighth day, everybody was critically dehydrated – together with the women, who had been in pressing want of medical remedy. Their father was nonetheless affected by kidney ache.

Hawar opened their tent that morning in entrance of a bunch of guards who “simply laughed at us”, he recollects sadly. “We had to return to Belarus.”

After imploring the Belarusian border guards, they had been allowed again into the nation so the youngsters may obtain medical remedy.

They’re now within the relative security of Minsk, the capital, however with their visas set to run out, they face deportation to Iraq. Hawar should plan to return to the border.

Roughly 200km (124 miles) south of the place Hawar was pushed again into Belarus, Poland’s borders with Ukraine stay open to the thousands and thousands of Ukrainian refugees escaping the horrors of battle. The jarring distinction between the remedy of non-European and European refugees just isn’t misplaced on Hawar.

“What hurts us a lot is the excellence made by Poland between us and Ukrainian refugees.”

*Title has been modified to guard the identification of the interviewee

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