Dzień pierwszy i drugi
The first day began as one might expect – roll call, administrative documentation, medical testing – Covid-19 and salmonella (not a test familiar to most, nor one described except over a beer), orientation regarding WCK and the role of this operation, and introductions by each of the ~20 volunteers for this one week rotation. A quick break for lunch – the chefs not only prepare amazing meals for the incoming Ukrainian refugees and residents still in-country, but they feed us well also.
The afternoon was devoted to learning the art of sandwich making. A WCK “sandwich” is a compact high fat/high protein meal designed to nourish the recipient quickly. The composition begins with buns baked locally, a substantial dollop of sos (mayo-based sauce), two large slices of real cheese, ten rounds of salami, and a second sploosh of sos. They are then wrapped in plastic and packaged up for delivery to the various locations where inbound and outbound refugees will be served. While great effort has gone into the design of this sandwich, the expectation of us is that they are produced quickly. Our production count that first afternoon was 4,978. I’ll share a video of the process tomorrow.
With a half-day of experience under our belt, WCK expanded our horizons by teaching us on Day 2 how to create salads that can be transported long distances in a single container and remain fresh until served. With a quick instruction from the chef, we knocked off enough pans of this magically layered salad (dressing included) to feed 1,800, before a break. The balance of the morning was spent washing and cutting vegetables for the various soups and meals the chefs would be making the following day.
Alina, the WCK coordinator (more on the various staff and volunteers tomorrow), asked if any of us wanted to help out with greeting and feeding the Ukrainians coming and going at the train station. I signed up for the evening of Day 2 and headed over after a quick shower. The WCK tent is located just outside customs/passport control facility at the station. Once cleared, travelers, some of whom have been riding on these trains for up to 16 hours, are greeted by us WCK volunteers and a couple of local staff who speak Ukrainian. We offered them soup, hot meals and the famous “sandwich” grilled in a panini press, along with drinks and cookies. But equally importantly, we greeted them with smiles. Almost all are women and children. Some spoke exceptional English, some we were able to communicate with through gestures, Google translate, and trial and error. I was fortunate to have Everett, a gregarious 6’5″ American who wears a comical hat as my volunteer partner. His disarming smile and arm-waving welcomes cut through most of the stoic veneers, and were rewarded with a thank you or
Дякую. When asked how they were doing, most shared that they were either “okay” or “better”. I guess that’s a relative term.
For about an hour after the inbound train arrived, we were flat out trying serve everyone quickly, efficiently and warmly. Some took their meals and sped off elsewhere, maybe knowing their next destination, while others lingered, coming back for seconds, perhaps uncertain as to what their next steps were or just happy to be safe. A number of other NGOs are on the ground here in Przemyśl helping provide accommodations and travel support to many.
At about 10:15 we got busy again as a number of Ukrainians showed up to take the last train back into their country. We fed them and stocked them up with necessities for their journey and wished them safe travels. Damien, one of the WCK staff suggested 800 – 1200 are returning daily from here. It was a long day, but it was fulfilling to see the real value of our efforts in the kitchen.
I chose not to take or share any photos of the WCK tent at the train station to preserve the privacy and dignity of those who have already lost so much. But I saw this bumper sticker on a car outside the station and thought it worthy of sharing (zoom in if necessary).