Mlyny, 22 March 2022 – Mlyny is a small town in south-eastern Poland, approximately 8 kilometers from the border with Ukraine. The otherwise quiet village has become one of the main points of entry for over 1.9 million people arriving in the country since the start of the war.
In addition to Ukrainians and third-country nationals, local and international volunteers have rushed to Mlyny to provide whatever help they can.
Among them is Aurang Zeb Khan, a master’s student who came to Poland at the onset of the crisis.
A national of Pakistan studying in Germany, Aurang works in a transit site run by local authorities, NGOs and volunteers. The site, a repurposed shopping centre, hosts mostly women and children who spend a few hours – or a few days – before resuming their journeys to Warsaw and other cities in Poland and beyond.
The corridors are packed with people resting on folding beds. People here are visibly battered and hungry after a long journey to safety. But in addition to basic needs such as food and health, many of them also need psychosocial interventions.
Aurang is one of 13 volunteers participating in a psychological first aid training organized by the International Organization for Migration (IOM). The training is the first of many similar interventions to come, particularly critical for people fleeing war and whose homes and sense of normalcy were turned to rubble in an instant.
“I came here to help both Ukrainians and non-Ukrainians by arranging transport and accommodation for them. I’ve seen people in very stressful situations. I remember in Warsaw Central Station I saw a woman crying; I wanted to help her, but I didn’t know how to approach her – I didn’t know how she would react.”
Psychological First Aid focuses on humane and supportive practical and emotional assistance to people who have been recently exposed to highly stressful events. “It’s about the principle of ‘do no harm’, so it’s very important to help volunteers to approach people without increasing their vulnerabilities,” says Heide Rieder, IOM Mental Health and Psychosocial Support (MHPSS) expert.
The trainee group is a testament to the outpouring of support to the Ukraine response. Participants come from the Netherlands, Mexico, Colombia, Canada, Poland, and Pakistan. During the training, they learn about sensitive approaches to helping people based on gender, age, and cultural-specific needs, among others. The participants and trainer sit in a circle inside a room used for recreational activities for children. The walls are covered in drawings and messages of solidarity sent by other children from around the world.
“Our goal is to ensure that volunteers can help people link to their own positive coping strategies, as well as to help volunteers reflect on their own situation and how they can care for themselves before providing assistance to others,” says Rieder.
“I want to continue helping these people, and I think the training gave me new skills to do so, at least to give them company to make them feel like someone is standing by them,” says Zeb Khan.
More than 3.3 million people have fled Ukraine into neighbouring countries, including more than 2 million in Poland alone. IOM Poland continues assistance to people in need including essential items, information, counselling, and referral services. Learn more about IOM’s response: IOM Response 2022.
This activity is made possible thanks to the support of the Government of Japan and the Council of Europe Development Bank, with additional support from CADENA who provided the training space.