Polish Tourist Town Turns Into Refugee Camp
The historic town of Zamość, used to hosting tourists, now deals with a massive influx of refugees fleeing the fighting in Ukraine
[Zamość, Poland] With the Ukrainian conflict entering its second week, the fighting has only intensified and those bearing the brunt of the conflict are, as always, the civilians.
The United Nations estimates that 600,000 people have already been displaced by the conflict, with the majority heading to Poland.
One locality that is having to deal with this new wave of migration is the scenic city of Zamość in southeast Poland, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, which is more accustomed to hosting tourists than refugees.
Local municipal officials say they have already taken 2,000 displaced persons from Ukraine, with more expected.
“The city brought a lot of beds, a lot of pillows and everything [for them]. We are not going to charge them anything,” explains Katarzkya Fornal-Urbanczyk, from the local council.
The 39-year-old, who previously worked on environmental and tourism issues, was not expecting to have to deal with this crisis.
“When they are coming with nothing … we have provided everything. … Some of our restaurants have stopped serving food to customers and are now preparing food for the refugees.”
One of the restaurants providing help is Padwa, a traditional establishment in the historic center of the city.
“In the restaurant, we provide soup, coffee, and tea. If someone wants something else, we will provide it,” Mariana, the middle-aged owner says, adding, “In total, I don’t know how many have come to us.”
Despite this strain on resources, the town of Zamość and its 65,000 residences have strong connections across the border.
“My mother, my father, and my uncle are in Kharkiv. I talked with my mother yesterday and she said Kharkiv is getting destroyed now,” a local resident told us. “They have a train ticket to come here, but it is [too] dangerous now. And my father in Kharkiv has to stay because he is only 55 years old. … He may have to stay and fight.”
Since the fighting broke out, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has ordered a general military mobilization and banned all male citizens ages 18 to 60 from leaving the country, according to the State Border Guard Service.
Although most of the refugees fleeing into Poland are of Ukrainian descent, the fact that the conflict erupted so quickly has also trapped people of many other nationalities.
“As Syrians, we were living in peace in Ukraine. … So, when this problem was raised, we decided to escape from Ukraine,” says Ahmed, a father of three said, at one of the processing centers.
He adds, “We have had war before, and we escaped that.”
With Russian forces advancing on the capital Kyiv, shelling occurring in the eastern city of Kharkiv, and ongoing efforts to capture the Black Sea port of Odesa in the south, many more people will certainly flee the conflict.
“It is completely unexpected. … I don’t know anything about how to help in a war … but when our mayor asked us to help, we did,” Fornal-Urbanczyk, from the Zamość municipality, said.