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Volunteers from the UK in Krakow, Poland: ‘We’ll Continue to Volunteer as Long as There Is a Need’

HSToday took World Refugee Day as an opportunity to sit down with some of the volunteers involved in relief efforts for refugees to give readers a sense of what, and how people are getting involved all around the world. Executive Editor Kristina Tanasichuk sat down with Fiona Wilson, who in her “day job” works for a local authority in the United Kingdom supporting children who have a visual impairment, and sister Karen Vaughan, who runs her own business, to learn more about their volunteer efforts in Krakow, Poland.  They were both horrified by the invasion and decided to get involved.

The answer is simple, they need volunteers, we are well looked after, we meet amazing people from all over the world, from different backgrounds and abilities who are there simply to help in any way they can.

HSToday: Welcome and thank you for talking with us!  I think everyone has been shocked by the invasion of Ukraine and subsequent atrocities committed by the Russians.  Is there anything in particular that made you actually get involved?

Wilson: When we heard about the Russian invasion of Ukraine we started donating food and clothing to a local charity that had been set up here in the UK called Moseley for Ukraine. However we felt we wanted to do more so I contacted Moseley for Ukraine, and they suggested places to volunteer in Krakow, Poland. We made contact with Wolontariusze _Ukraina_CW Krakow and registered to join their Facebook page and I found out about all the wonderful work they were doing. It was an easy decision for us to make to volunteer and help in any way we could.

Volunteers from the UK in Krakow, Poland: 'We'll Continue to Volunteer as Long as There Is a Need' Homeland Security Today
Fiona Wilson and Karen Vaughan behind the make shift counter at one of the many supply distribution centers for Ukrainian refugees in Krakow. Courtesy of Fiona Wilson.

HSToday: Where have you been volunteering?  Only in Krakow?

Wilson: Karen and I have been volunteering in Krakow through Wolontariusze _Ukraina_CW Krakow, an organization coordinating much of the refugee response in Krakow. We have volunteered at several of their locations: Szafa Dobra (which literally translates to “Good Wardrobe in English, al Pokoju 44) which is a large clothing warehouse, and at al Daszynskiego 16 which is a food bank. We have also donated medicines to al Daszynskiego 22 which is where refugees go if they need medication. Unfortunately, this center is now closed and a limited service is provided at al Daszynskiego 16. We have also donated to The World Central Kitchen on the same site as Szafa Dobra and near the main train station in Krakow. Further to this in April we visited Platform 3 at the main station every day during our stay and provided food for refugees arriving there.

Volunteers from the UK in Krakow, Poland: 'We'll Continue to Volunteer as Long as There Is a Need' Homeland Security Today
The children’s section of Szafa Dobra, a clothing warehouse for refugees which translates to “Good Wardrobe” in English. Courtesy of Fiona Wilson.

HSToday: You are doing tremendous work.  What compels you to return?

Wilson: Karen and I have made 3 visits to Krakow to volunteer since April returning in May and again recently in June. The answer is simple, they need volunteers, we are well looked after, we meet amazing people from all over the world, from different backgrounds and abilities who are there simply to help in any way they can.

HSToday: Have you observed anything that surprised you?

Wilson: The queues for people needing help are very long, from the beginning of a shift to the end of a shift there are always people needing help. This has been the same for every visit that we have made. The shelves are often empty at the food bank and the clothes at Szafa Dobra are mainly winter clothes now, the storage areas were very full when we arrived in April, during our last visit in June they were looking very empty.

HSToday: What types of activities are you doing when you come?

Wilson: The roles have varied, Kare and I usually work together. At Szafa Dobra we have worked on shoes, men’s, women’s  and children’s clothing area, we have also helped restock the shelves. At the food bank we re-stock shelves and give out food. You basically just get assigned where to go and offer help wherever it is needed.

The queues for people needing help are very long

HSToday: Who pays for your way?

Wilson: We are both self-funded, we made the decision very early on that we would pay for our own flights, food, and accommodation. A week before our first visit in April we decided to set up a JustGiving page to raise funds so that we could take money with us and buy whatever was needed when we arrived. Karen also created some donation envelopes based on some images from a local Artist called Robert Bower, in these envelopes we have been putting in a crocheted heart as a thank you to anyone who has donated.  On our visits we have also given out many of these hearts to people that we have met whilst we have been volunteering. We raised over £2,000 for our first visit and bought food, medicine and clothing. We felt it was important to give something back to the Polish community and economy by spending money whilst we were out there. We also set up a Facebook page so that our family and friends who donated could follow our story.

Volunteers from the UK in Krakow, Poland: 'We'll Continue to Volunteer as Long as There Is a Need' Homeland Security Today
Supplies for refugees topped with the blue and yellow crocheted heart used to thank donors. Courtesy of Fiona Wilson.

HSToday: Would you recommend volunteering to others?

Wilson: Absolutely! We are very fortunate that we are a short flight away from Krakow                 as we are based in the UK, however we have met volunteers from all over the world that have given up their time to help. We will continue to volunteer for as long as there is a need to do so.

HSToday: Any tips for future volunteers?

Wilson: Look at the weather forecast! For our first trip we dressed up in winter clothing and it was really hot! Look after yourself whilst you are out there, quite often you can work all day without eating or drinking properly. Take time out to enjoy the place that you are volunteering.

We will continue to volunteer for as long as there is a need to do so.

Kristina Tanasichuk
Kristina Tanasichuk is Executive Editor of Homeland Security Today and CEO of the Government Technology & Services Coalition. She founded GTSC to advance communication and collaboration between the public and private sector in defense of our homeland.  A leader in homeland security public private partnership, critical infrastructure protection, cyber security, STEM, innovation, commercialization and much more, she brings to HSToday decades of experience and expertise in the intersection of the public and private sectors in support of our homeland's security. Tanasichuk worked for Chairman Tom Bliley on electric utility restructuring for the House Commerce Committee, represented municipal electric utilities sorting out deregulation, the American Enterprise Institute, a think tank in Washington, D.C. and ran the largest homeland security conference and trade show in the country. Immediately after 9/11 she represented public works departments In homeland security and emergency management. She is also the president and founder of Women in Homeland Security and served as president of InfraGard of the National Capital Region, a member of the Fairfax County Law Enforcement Foundation, the U.S. Coast Guard Enlisted Memorial Foundation and on the Board of USCG Mutual Assistance. She has an MPA from George Mason University and has attended the FBI and DEA Citizens Academies and the Marine Corps Executive Leadership Program. Most recently she was awarded the "Above & Beyond Award" by the Intelligence & Law Enforcement Training Seminar (INLETS) and was awarded Small Business Person of the Year by AFCEA International. Tanasichuk brings a new vision and in-depth knowledge of the federal homeland and national security apparatus to the media platform.

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