Former St. Paul woman lends family home on Polish-Ukrainian border to migrant refugees – Twin Cities
A teenager at Stillwater High School, Katarzyna “Kasia” Fahey enjoyed a summer trip to her grandmother’s small hamlet in Poland, a riverside forest community of fewer than 1,500 people still traversed by horse-drawn wagons . Ulanów is two hours northwest of the Ukrainian border, but Fahey was more concerned at the time with her grandmother’s business – a ground-floor ice cream shop located under more than 2 000 square feet of comfortable living space.
“Of all the kids, that’s where I spent the most time,” said Fahey, who grew up in her early years on the East Side of St. Paul and returned to Poland several times to l ‘adulthood. “My Polish isn’t very good, so my vocabulary is mostly limited to food. Polish grandmothers are always trying to feed you.
When his grandmother passed away two years ago, Fahey, his three siblings, parents, uncle and cousins were unsure what to do with the sizable property they had inherited. It remained vacant until the war answered the question.
HELP FOR REFUGEES
Fahey, a Golden Valley-based web developer and mother of a four-year-old girl and a two-year-old boy, could barely bear to see news footage of uprooted women from Ukrainian towns devastated by Russian bombings and mourning their children in refugee caravans.
“We talked as a family – would we like to offer our house as a temporary shelter? It took us a few days to see, ‘oh my God, this is not a self-resolving situation.’
These days, with a little free publicity help from Facebook and Airbnb, the family has turned grandmother’s house, or ‘babcia’, into something of a staging post for Ukrainian refugees en route to more permanent destinations. in Western Europe.
The first family arrived at 1 a.m. a week ago on Sunday, with three children. They stayed only one night before leaving for Germany. At least two other families have since moved in.
“Because our house is so close to the Ukrainian border and it’s such a small town, it’s really used as a temporary shelter while people find new homes in Germany, Spain and France,” Fahey said. Monday.
“AN INCREDIBLE SPILL”
What may seem like a rewarding task has also been emotionally draining. To date, she has responded to requests via email and online apps such as WhatsApp from almost 50 families, almost all of whom seem desperate.
“We need accommodation, but we are still in Kyiv and haven’t found a way to the train station yet,” one family wrote last week. “I have two children and a mother (who) after a stroke… hardly walks anymore. If you have the opportunity, please wait. Thank you.”
Similar messages followed.
“The first few days were an incredible outpouring of messages,” Fahey said. “I was getting dozens of emails and text messages from people who were stranded and wondering if our house was available. …People were telling me ‘I’m going to be there later today, I’m only an hour or two away by car’ and I wouldn’t hear from them for 24 hours because it takes so long to cross the border.
“Seeing mums, especially mums, having to navigate alone in the winter, I always feel helpless, but at least I can do a little something.”
FURNISH THE HOUSE
To outfit her grandmother’s house, Fahey organized an online fundraiser, advertised on her personal Facebook page, which raised some $2,700 in the first 24 hours alone. She plans to use the money to pay off a site caretaker, a friend of her grandmother’s whom she mostly calls Gosia, and pay for food, stuffed animals and other supplies.
Gosia does not speak English, which makes coordination interesting.
“It’s a bit like playing on the phone, because I’m calling my mum (in Stillwater) who speaks Polish,” Fahey said. “We are trying to communicate, but there have been problems.”
A few days ago, Fahey ventured into a Polish online store to buy what she believed at the time to be eight mattresses, sheets and blankets, but could have been four. The materials are coming in slowly.
The Faheys do not accept donations from the general public.
“We might end up having to give them somewhere else,” she said.
“THE LEGACY OF WWII”
Eager to reconstitute parts of the former Soviet Union and block other allegiances with Western Europe, Russian leader Vladimir Putin escalated a long-running conflict with Ukraine on February 24. The Russian invasion displaced some 2.8 million Ukrainians, at least half of those who fled to Poland and killed at least 15,000 people, according to Reuters.
Fahey said she was unnerved by the sense of history repeating itself. German leader Adolf Hitler invaded Poland in September 1939, upsetting the balance of power in Europe and starting World War II. The country fell to the Nazis within a month and Ulanów was no exception.
“The legacy of World War II left its mark there,” Fahey said. “I’ve been there many times, and I’ve never met a single Jewish person, and it was an all-Jewish town.”
As a forest community, Ulanow in the modern era has slowly lost its population. The Faheys hope to get in touch with the city’s mayor and encourage him to open up more vacant accommodation for refugees, although the city is a bit off the beaten track to major destinations like Krakow and Warsaw.
“From what I heard, there is no more place in Krakow,” Fahey said. “Everyone’s guest room is booked.”
Overall, “I am surprised by the warm welcome that the Poles reserve for the Ukrainians, because there has always been mistrust, and a little tension at the border”, she added. “I think this situation will only get more extreme. The Polish people do not have the infrastructure to handle this large number of people arriving.