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The flow of Ukrainian refugees has changed direction in Poland. And so has aid relief

People leave the aid camp at the Poland-Ukraine border in Medyka, Poland.
Adam Lach for NPR
People leave the aid camp at the Poland-Ukraine border in Medyka, Poland.

MEDYKA, Poland — On a warm, windy day in the middle of May, Harry Scrymgeour is hard at work breaking down a humanitarian relief tent that helped thousands of Ukrainians during the height of Europe's refugee crisis.

"Of course, the sort of great joy in tearing down this camp is that it has been useful. It is no longer useful," Scrymgeour says.

That's because the flow of refugees from Ukraine has actually reversed at the Polish border crossing in Medyka, where his group is based, with more people now going into Ukraine than out.

Scrymgeour is part of Siobhan's Trust, a small Scottish charity named after his late mother. They have been here since the start of the war, back when temperatures were below freezing and the refugee intake was high.

Harry Scrymgeour works at a humanitarian relief tent, part of Siobhan's Trust, a small Scottish charity named after his late mother.
/ Adam Lach for NPR
/
Adam Lach for NPR
Harry Scrymgeour works at a humanitarian relief tent, part of Siobhan's Trust, a small Scottish charity named after his late mother.

During the peak of the crisis, 1,500 Ukrainians were crossing into Poland every hour at Medyka, and humanitarian workers rushed to the Polish side of the border to help.

Today, Siobhan's Trust receives more requests for pizza from other aid workers passing the time than refugees themselves. And in response, people like Scrymgeour, and another aid group Humanity First U.K., are adapting new strategies.

Three days after the war began, Humanity First U.K. set up medical tents on both sides of the Poland-Ukraine border. Back then, they would provide around-the-clock medical care. These days, the tent is filled with more staff than patients.

"We're not seeing as much of the medical influx that we used to," says Dr. Aziz Hafiz, the chairman of Humanity First U.K.

Aid organizations provide food for refugees coming from Ukraine at the border in Medyka, Poland.
/ Adam Lach for NPR
/
Adam Lach for NPR
Aid organizations provide food for refugees coming from Ukraine at the border in Medyka, Poland.

They have treated more than 26,000 people since the war started, and while they are still helping some refugees, they have shifted focus to supporting their efforts inside Ukraine, where they provide medication to orphanages and hospitals.

Because while the scene at Medyka is one of relative calm, the violence and death continues in the south and east of Ukraine as Russia now focuses its attack there. More than 6 million people have left Ukraine since the war began, and another 6 million or so are displaced within the country.

"So it's essentially a base point until the war is over," Hafiz says of Medyka, "Where we can actually then shift camp into cities and villages where needed."

The location next to the border is convenient for his team to cross and deliver medical supplies, while also still treating issues like cardiac arrest, diabetes and high blood pressure from those who do leave Ukraine.

Dr. Aziz Hafiz is the chairman of Humanity First U.K.
/ Adam Lach for NPR
/
Adam Lach for NPR
Dr. Aziz Hafiz is the chairman of Humanity First U.K.

"People that have become refugees do not have their basic medical supplies that they will usually carry with them," Hafiz says.

"There's a lot of tooing and froing, as families are struggling to juggle lives on both sides."

Back at Siobhan's Trust, volunteers dish out coffee and churn out the last few pizzas before they shut down their tent at Medyka and turn elsewhere.

"We wanted to keep this alive just in case we could react to a new wave of refugees that might need our help," Scrymgeour says. "But right now, all our resources are going towards delivering food to places where there are refugees who are going to be there for the medium time."

Volunteers from the World Central Kitchen prepare food for Ukrainian refugees crossing the Polish border in Medyka, Poland.
/ Adam Lach for NPR
/
Adam Lach for NPR
Volunteers from the World Central Kitchen prepare food for Ukrainian refugees crossing the Polish border in Medyka, Poland.

For Siobhan's Trust, this isn't the end of the war or their ability to help — it's the start of the next phase that could continue for months or even years to come.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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Ari Shapiro has been one of the hosts of All Things Considered, NPR's award-winning afternoon newsmagazine, since 2015. During his first two years on the program, listenership to All Things Considered grew at an unprecedented rate, with more people tuning in during a typical quarter-hour than any other program on the radio.
Ayen Deng Bior is a producer at NPR's flagship evening news program, All Things Considered. She helps shape the sound of the daily shows by contributing story ideas, writing scripts and cutting tape. Her work at NPR has taken her to Warsaw, Poland, where she heard from refugees displaced by the war in Ukraine. She has spoken to people in Saint-Louis, Senegal, who are grappling with rising seas. Before NPR, Bior wore many hats at the Voice of America's English to Africa service where she worked in radio, television and digital. Bior began her career reporting on the revolution in Sudan, the developing state of affairs in South Sudan and the experiences of women behind the headlines in both countries. In her spare time, Bior loves to kayak, read and bird watch.