Dusk came quickly and it started to rain again. The cold, damp air soaked through all my layers of clothing, sending shivers down my spine. It was our last day at the border and we had just said goodbye.
The orange vests we wore all week had been neatly placed on the bench next to us, ready for someone else to pick up the next day. We stepped out of the tent, illuminated by the warm glow of a fireplace, and into the cold, damp evening, cameras hanging by our side. We didn’t want to miss any photo report on the way out.
We walked on the damp ground and took the same walk we had been doing all week, past the volunteer tents set up to welcome and help the refugees, past the food stalls and the veterinary clinic. We said goodbye to the familiar faces we had befriended. We arrived at the bus stop at the end of the path.
I looked back as we were almost out of camp. My eyes met those of a young woman we had treated earlier. She was barely 18, although she looked much older. She was bundled up, waiting for the bus to arrive. Where would that lead her? Options were limited, but likely to the large refugee center in Przemyśl, Poland, a converted shopping center now occupied by more than 5,000 people. His future was uncertain. Perhaps she had family in Europe; perhaps she would spend time at the center with the hundreds of people who had been forced to flee their homes. I didn’t know that, and maybe she didn’t either. But one thing was certain: I had a home to return to. She does not have. Still, she smiled at me slightly.
It was precisely a situation like his that had brought me to Medyka. Now, after a week that had gone by too quickly, my volunteer time was over. I was returning home, but she and thousands of others were stuck in uncertainty, displaced from their homes and far from everything they had ever known. My heart sank as we left the camp.
The decision to come to the Polish-Ukrainian border was spontaneous. I had planned to spend three weeks in Madrid taking dance lessons at a studio that I had been following on social media for several months. But I became restless and anxious watching the situation unfold in Ukraine, so I decided to get involved. My friend Sonia, a Ukrainian whose family immigrated to the United States many years ago, decided to join me. We have arranged to stay with my family who live near the border, driving an hour each day to Medyka.
My role as a volunteer was to staff the medical tent, which was located just across the border. Standing outside, we watched small groups of people walk the long path after their passports were checked. All day we heard suitcase wheels rolling against the concrete. Our tent was the first stop on the Polish side. Many refugees had stopped asking for specific assessment or medication.
Most cases weren’t serious enough to require hospitalization, but we could call an ambulance if we needed it. Most people reported psychological trauma. Sonia was fluent in Russian and was able to communicate with most of the refugees on a deeper level than me. She worked as a translator and took the time to talk to everyone who contacted her. I followed, taking photos and listening to people’s stories when they were ready to share them.
Refugees continued to enter Poland as Sonia and I prepared to leave. The war remains deeply etched in my mind. Maybe I’ll help again in some way, but for now I’m sharing the pictures of the people who kindly agreed to be photographed and wanted the world to know their story. I ask everyone reading this please to remember Ukraine. She needs all the support we can give her right now.
Picture page 1: A woman showing her bombed-out apartment in Kyiv. She hid in a basement with little food and water for two days before escaping.