Down an unassuming street on the outskirts of Warsaw, among a series of warehouses, a hostel has been set up to host non-Ukrainian refugees among the nearly two million who have fled to Poland since the Russian invasion. In the entrance hallway is a poster with messages from recent Afghan guests: “Thank you to Poland,” reads one.
“People don’t think about the fact that there are non-Ukrainian refugees from Ukraine and there are for sure some people who are afraid,” said Marianna Ossolińska, who is managing the hostel, an initiative of the Club of Catholic Intelligentsia.
“That’s why this hostel was created because we couldn’t accommodate or host people anywhere else. We have the entire world here,” she said, of the many nationalities.
“It’s harder to find a place for single men and people are sometimes probably more willing to take mothers and children,” she said. “Most of our guests arrive very tired, they need a quiet place to rest and feel safe. Then they can start to think about what they will do next. I get the feeling that many of them have no idea.”
Ossolińska said, typically stay for about three days while they plan their next Guests steps. There have been no issues so far, but Ossolińska prefers that the location is not publicized due to safety concerns for guests, most of whom are not Ukrainian.
In recent weeks it was reported that Polish far-right nationalists attacked groups of African, south Asian and Middle Eastern refugees who had crossed the Ukrainian border.
Mustafa*, 24, from Algeria, is a current guest. A business student in Kharkiv, he fled to Poland and came to the hostel three days ago after running out of money and not having anywhere else to go.
“I applied to the business school here. I want to stay if I can find somewhere [to live],” he said, “I wouldn’t go back to Algeria, it’s very corrupt. I don’t even have a thought to go back.”
Mustafa is uncertain about his immigration status. “I don’t want to be illegal. I called the Algerian embassy and they said it’s OK to stay here,” he said. Mustafa hopes to remain in Warsaw if he can find a job and enroll at a university in the capital.
Yusup, 25, is originally from Turkmenistan and has lived in Ukraine for the past 10 years. A day before the Russian invasion he submitted his final documents for citizenship, which now feels like a dream. He arrived at the hostel with his Ukrainian wife after hearing through friends that it was a safe place. “We decided to come and ask if they had a space and the volunteers were so kind and they offered us a room,” he said.
Arslan*, 29, also from Turkmenistan, and his Ukrainian wife, Daria, 25, also found the hostel through friends. Arslan does not wish to give his real name to him because he is worried about his family in Turkmenistan. “It’s not a good situation there,” he said. Arslan trained as a general surgeon in Ukraine and had learned to speak the language. The couple now hope to travel to Germany.
Olga, 28, a Ukrainian from the Donbas region, arrived with a large group of friends from Turkmenistan who sought refuge in the hostel. “Since 2014 me and my family have known war, killing and what it is to die,” she said.
While the hostel’s doors are open to everyone, Agnieszka Karol, 45, a Polish volunteer, said it was an important safe space for those who might not otherwise find accommodation.
“Not every Polish family is ready to accept someone who is not of Ukrainian origin,” she said. “There are two women with children who arrived this morning who are Ukrainian nationals but are Roma so it also might be difficult to find a place for them.”
Ossolińska, like many Polish citizens who have stepped up in response to the crisis, juggles volunteering with a full-time job. “I don’t know anyone who is looking at what is happening and is doing nothing,” she said.
* Names have been changed
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George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism