The very day the invasion of Ukraine began, Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) announced an emergency aid package of $1.2M for Ukraine. And last week ACN increased its aid package by another $360,000 to help the Catholic Church in Ukraine cope with the challenges of the war.

Quite apart from this aid, ACN has been directly involved with the refugee crisis prompted by the Russian attack. The ACN office in Poland in the city of Wrocław has been the first point of refuge for thousands of refugees. Poland already has taken in more than 1.5 million refugees, and many of them are crossing the frontier into Przemyśl, which has a direct connection with Wrocław, so that thousands of Ukrainians are arriving there daily.

ACN opened its office in this city just two years ago and it is located right next to the Central Station. “It was an act of God’s providence that we should have our office right next to the Wrocław train station. When the Ukrainian refugees arrived, terrorized and exhausted in a place unfamiliar to them, we were already there to help,” explains Father Andrzej Paś of ACN Poland, who is leading the aid initiative for the refugees. “The people getting off the trains are immediately told by the volunteers where they can go to receive help”, he reports.

As soon as the emergency aid program was launched, hundreds of volunteers turned up at the office ready to offer their time and energies in helping. Since then, the office has remained open day and night. “We welcome everyone,” says Julka, one of ACN Poland’s longtime volunteers. She confesses that she was not expecting quite such a great number of refugees, but that at the same time she has been astonished by the intense activity of all the volunteers. “There are so many of them, and sometimes they are working 24 hours a day,” she adds.

Refugees in Wroclaw (photo courtesy Jakub Wojslawski

Among the people helping the refugees is Damián, a seminarian, who travels every day from the Salvatorian major seminary in Bagno, almost 25 miles from Wrocław. “We don’t have classes until midday, so we are here offering help. Half the seminarians have been helping out in recent days,” he says.

Father Paś admits that the coordination of the whole campaign has been an enormous challenge. “In order to help as a volunteer, you need to join the Facebook group Help for Ukraine – PKP Wrocław. You need to be part of the program,” he explains. Each day new information is distributed to this group. “I give information above all about what is needed,” says Julka. There is a continuous stream of messages about what is required. For example, one day it might be blankets, sleeping bags, bandages, sanitary items, and nappies. The next, they may urgently need children’s socks and shoes.

Thanks to the help of all these volunteers, everything that arrives in ACN’s offices is duly stacked and classified. “We ask people to bring us new things and not already worn things. And in the case of food, we ask for things with a late use by date,” Father Andrzej explains. In fact, the amount of aid brought in by benefactors and friends has been so large that they’ve had to open an extra warehouse outside the town. Meanwhile, the first shipments of urgent food have already been dispatched to Ukraine.

ACN’s offices in Wrocław bear the name “Dialogue Station.” This is where the refugees can get immediate help. “Restaurant owners come to us bringing soup and sandwiches, and many people are offering their help to cook pots of soup, stew and casseroles,” says ACN volunteer Julka.

Arriving refugees can immediately be given a hot meal and find somewhere to rest. There is also a special place for mothers and children, as well as a medical aid center, and a psychological support center run by Andżela, a Ukrainian woman who has been living in Wrocław for the past two years. “The people arriving here are traumatized. They don’t know what the future holds for them, and they are profoundly distressed. I explain to them that they are in good hands,” she explains, adding that she provides telephone consultations, even at night if necessary – whatever she can do to be as close as possible to her fellow country people.

Everywhere there is a response of great gratitude, and Julka relates how the refugees constantly ask for her telephone number, “because they want to invite me to Ukraine when everything gets back to normal,” she explains. “The governor of Lower Silesia, the province to which Wrocław belongs, has organized accommodation, as have many individuals, willing to offer hospitality and provide shelter to those in need, as well as information about possible employment,” Father Andrzej adds.

—Sister Karolina Mordaka & Maria Lozano