A Londoner dropped everything to fly out to Poland after a woman who used to work as his cleaning lady got in touch about Ukrainian mums in need of help in refugee camps.
Neil Midgley, 53, said it was only after speaking to his cleaner, Ela, that he realised how much work on-the-ground groups were doing in Poland.
Ela moved home to eastern Poland last summer, and when Neil rang her a few weeks ago, she told him about the work being done for Ukrainian refugees by local Polish charity Unitatem.
Neil, who lives in Bow, East London with his cat Starbuck, immediately got on a plane to visit and try to help their efforts.
He said: “They are the most inspirational people I’ve ever met in my 53 years. Patric, who is the founder of Unitatem, he is the local property developer in Jarosław, and he started by offering his own house, which he has just built, to refugees.
“Now, they’ve taken on some disused schools and buildings, and are now hosting 500 Ukrainian mums and their kids, and trying to scale up to probably four times that – 2,000 beds.”
But when he got to Poland, he realised the school where the Ukrainian mums and their children, many as young as babies, were living was lacking basic resources. And one thing in particular is needed, which many of us take for granted – washing machines.
He said: “If you think about it, these women have left behind the men they love, they’ve left behind their lives. And they’ve also left behind their domestic appliances. Everything that you need to live is still back in their homes. So if you can imagine 250 women and children, who generate a lot of dirt at a single location, that is hundreds of kilos of laundry that needs to be done.”
Neil describes how everyday life in Poland is simply carrying on. “If you were in the streets of Jarosław,” he says, “you wouldn’t know there was a refugee crisis. But behind closed doors, the conditions in places that are receiving refugees can be extreme.”