Behind the powerful «Team Kraków» Foundation, which during the year and a half of Russia’s full-scale war against Ukraine sent more than 300 tons of aid to Ukrainians, there is the hard work of two volunteers — Piotr Naglicki and Barbara Marchewka. For them, charitable assistance to Ukraine has already turned into a way of life.
Piotr Naglicki and Barbara Marchewka / photo: Vchasno
When I meet with Barbara and Piotr at one of the large warehouses on the outskirts of Krakow, they immediately kindly apologize that they will be distracted from our conversation from time to time, because they have to take care of another delivery of aid for Ukrainians. Around us, there are tons of different things and goods, carefully organized by categories. In one corner — thousands of cans of energy drinks for the Ukrainian military, in another — boxes with children’s toys for orphanages, a little further — rooms filled up to the ceiling with pasta, cookies, oil, and other food. Separately, there is a room with food for animals, who also suffer because of the war.
It seems that there is no direction that the Polish volunteers would not try to «cover». Almost every day consists of collecting, logistics, forming, and actually sending goods to Ukraine.
«I wake up, eat breakfast, take our daughter to kindergarten, and afterward, when I don’t have to go to the storehouse, I’m sitting at home making some calls, asking for donations and driving around, picking up some stuff. And when we have some transports we are coming here and this is how we prepare everything for departure», Piotr says. «This is a way of life now, sometimes it takes even 16−20 hours a day, seven days a week.»
Barbara works in the tourism industry. When the woman found out about a full-scale invasion, she understood that she would not be able to organize recreation or entertainment at a time when innocent people in a neighboring country were forced to flee from the horrors of war.
«We realized at the very beginning that what happened in Ukraine could happen anywhere. That Piotr will go to the army for example and I will stay with the child and have to run somewhere with a little plastic bag of the basic stuff and I do expect that somebody will help us as well so that’s why we feel deep in our hearts that the good is coming back. And it’s very difficult to not care about one another in this situation. You are in a dramatic position. You are fighting for the whole world at the moment. So I think that everyone should support as much as they can. Because it’s obvious that we, Poles, have to work, we have to live our normal life as well, to be strong enough to help. That’s the base rule of the volunteer. You have to be strong to help others, right? So that’s how it works», Barbara says.
Observing the crowds of Ukrainians who arrived in Krakow, Przemysl, and other cities of Poland in search of shelter, Barbara was engaged in the issue of their accommodation.
«I have contacted the hotels that got permission to host the people from Ukraine, and we were in touch with other volunteers and colleagues. Then we have helped those places, the hotels, the refugee centers, with the delivery of goods because first of all people got a place to sleep however they also needed the hygienic staff, food, clothes and many other things which are the basics for everyone.»
Later regular deliveries of goods directly to war-affected regions of Ukraine have been established. The volunteers named the impressive figure: in a year and a half, they sent more than 300 tons of aid to Ukraine. 99% of this goes directly to Ukraine, and a small part is distributed between places in Krakow or among individual families who specifically apply for support. The geography of deliveries is almost all of Ukraine. Piotr lists: Bakhmut, Kramatorsk, Slovyansk, Avdiivka, Zaporizhzhia, Nikopol, Mykolaiv, Kherson, Odesa, Chernivtsi, Vinnytsia, Lviv, Kharkiv, Kyiv, Rivne, and many smaller settlements.
«We deliver food and hygiene kits to civilians, hospitals, and orphanages. We sent a lot of things to hospitals — for example, beds, wheelchairs, and others. We support the orphanages with both basic things and stationery, sweets, soft toys, anything to make the children smile at least a little,» Barbara says. «Let's not forget about psychiatric hospitals, which, in our opinion, are at the very end of the chain of help, because they have a little support from the state, and these people, who sometimes are not even aware of the whole situation, also need support. We don’t do it for medals or gratitude. We do it because we feel that we have to help completely innocent people.»
From the beginning of volunteering, Barbara, Piotr, and their friend Ernest invested a lot of their own funds in helping Ukrainians.
«Arm aid comes from the governments of many countries — the USA, Poland, and other NATO countries. But supporting people is also very important because they should feel that they are not alone,» Piotr is convinced.
A separate area of work of Krakow volunteers is helping Ukrainian soldiers. Of course, not armed assistance, but only one that is allowed by Polish legislation for charitable organizations. With me, Barbara unpacks and inspects flashlights with a built-in radio that is being prepared for sending to the front.
«We deliver tourniquets needed on the front line. There, you see, the energy drinks, we bought over 30,000 with our private money because there was no way to get them for free. The military are very happy when they get that. It’s always nice for them to have something different from what they normally eat and drink. Something from another country. And it’s also a psychological part because they know somebody is thinking of them. And it gives them, you know, like some power,» Piotr says.
To thank volunteers Ukrainian defenders hand over «trophies» — the man shows the remains of the shot down Russian «Kalibr» missile, the uniform of a liquidated Russian soldier, and a bulletproof vest stuffed with sand. A whole mini-museum of exhibits has already been collected — they are trying to sell them at auctions in order to collect donations for the next purchases.
The man also tells me a story about a Ukrainian soldier, vividly demonstrating how small the world is and how important it is to support each other in times of the greatest challenges for humanity.
«In one of the cities, we somehow got permission and were able to visit a destroyed building that was hit by two rockets. There I talked to a soldier who was guarding the area or something. He told us a story about his friends who are fighting in Bakhmut now and they’re dying. He was quite sad about that. I told him that we are driving now to Bakhmut because we have a whole convoy of five cars. I showed him some pictures and he recognized his friends in these pictures. And this big guy started to cry. It was really heart-taking,» Piotr recalls.
«Trophies» from Ukrainian soldiers
Krakow volunteers have a large network of partner organizations and just like-minded people among Poles and Ukrainians who deal with the issues of transportation of goods to Ukraine, refueling cars, and so on. Every person is trustworthy. For example, they actively cooperate with the Ukrainian NGO «Svit Dovkola». Barbara and Piotr always make sure that the help is delivered as intended.
«We make sure that everything reaches the proper destination, and our aim was to provide help to people who need it, from hand to hand, not to transfer it from our storage house to another storage house, where the goods may just be locked for months or just maybe disappear,» Barbara notes.
Aid goes directly to those who need it
Photo: Facebook Team Kraków dla Ukrainy
One of the volunteer friends is Serhii. He is a Ukrainian who has been living in Krakow for 25 years, has his own business and, most importantly, transport. So he devotes his free time to helping the team.
«Sometimes I have my own sources, I can bring something for them, sometimes I just need a car to transport something around Poland. If necessary, we go to the Ukrainian border,» the man shares. «No motivation is needed for help because we are Ukrainians — that is our main motivation.»
Piotr Naglicki personally traveled to Ukraine several times — during one of the visits he witnessed the Russian attack and the heroic work of the Ukrainian air defense soldiers:
«Once I was in Kyiv, I arrived at two o’clock in the morning, and it was quite scary because the whole city was empty — nobody was on the streets, and I had to spend the night a little further from the city. Alarms were going off and it was one of those days when the Russians were shelling the city. Early in the morning I heard anti-aircraft missiles fly by and a few seconds later there was a huge explosion and it may have been right over the house where I was sleeping. The whole house was shaking, and yes, it was very scary, and then the next morning when I woke up, everything was like normal, so when we went to Kyiv, the city was living, everyone was shopping, restaurants, everything was open. It was difficult for us to understand that Ukrainians live in, you know, a split world, because the day is completely different from the night.»
Polish volunteers say that, despite all the difficulties, they are ready for the «long game». During our conversation, they announced an ambitious mission — prepare to deliver 1000 15-kilogram parcels with a basic set of food and hygiene products to the residents of the front-line areas. They are thinking about buying their own bus for transporting goods.
«As one of our friends says: this is not a sprint, this is a marathon. Sometimes we see a kind of quiet moment in the media because they only report about very dramatic things, such as the flood in Kherson, the shelling of large buildings, or the attack and death of a large number of civilians. Yes, you yourself know that people all over the world get used to it. You know, I would compare it to a situation where you suddenly hear that someone is ill and you are full of compassion, but a week, a month, a year later, when you still see that person, that he or she is still struggling, it becomes normal.
So we are still fighting, we are still supporting, we are helping, we are collecting the goods, we are trying to convince the people, the companies to support our transport and our mission to help Ukrainians," Barbara Marchewka says.
We say goodbye, I go to take a few photos, and Piotr and Barbara return to their «routine» — the woman takes some organizational calls, and the man rearranges the boxes with goods. It seems that the work here does not stop even for a minute.