Over the hump
The fifth day began much like others – morning vegetable chopping, salad making, and prep for the sandwich line. By now, we’re old hands at this, not waiting for direction, recognizing what needs to be done and knife-wielding like Iron Chefs. As we settle into our routine, we have the opportunity to dig deeper into our teammates’ lives, sharing histories, likes and dislikes, and even political perspectives.
Seems the majority of folks are Type A personalities, not surprisingly, given the hoops to jump through to get here. Similarly, most but not all participants have a left-leaning bent, which came out particularly in our discussions following the terrible mass-shooting incident in Texas.
One small tragedy unfolded at the kitchen this week as fellow Canadian Guy Lamarche announced that his friend and support dog Gunner was stricken with a tick-borne illness. Guy and Gunner have been at WCK in Przemyśl since the end of April and had become fixtures at the kitchen. Other long-time volunteers helped Guy find a reliable vet for Gunner who determined there was serious impact on Gunner’s liver and kidneys and put the dog on a series of intravenous medications. The vet’s prognosis for Gunner was guarded and indicated the next 72 hours would be critical.
With the movement of refugees out of and back into Ukraine slowing somewhat, our daily sandwich target remained at ~5,000. The competitive spirit of the Type A overachievers shone through on Friday and we completed our mission at about 2pm. So we had an afternoon to ourselves.
With Petru at the wheel, Everett, Aiden and I set out on a road trip. We drove to the border, passing a long (4 km?) procession of parked vehicles lined up waiting to cross into Ukraine. One of the big challenges facing WCK, other NGOs, and Ukraine at large is how time consuming it is to get approval for vehicles crossing the border. Many drivers line up overnight in the procession to cross. We drove past all the trucks and parked a block from the customs/passport control facility. Here a number of NGOs including WCK and the United Nations have tents with resources to help Ukrainians who cross over on foot. We met up with the distribution folks at WCK, discussed how the kitchen could continue to help them in the field, and helped greet inbound refugees. We walked the sidewalk where Ukrainians traveled in equal numbers in both directions. The flag at the top of the page was hung on the fence along the walkway. On the road, a young 30ish guy in a nice Mercedes sports car stopped and thanked us for what we were doing at WCK. He shared that he is a Ukrainian living in Warsaw, but has returned intending to join in the fight for his country. Brave.
We took a quick drive around the town of Medyka, marveled at the amazing churches including this one made of wood. A number of parishioners were attending a meeting at the neighbouring church. Once again, it was somewhat mind boggling that, for these people, life has a semblance of normality, a few hundred feet from a war-torn country where refugees stream out daily.
I returned to the train station Friday night to assist with the greeting and feeding of our Ukrainian guests. As each night passes, those working continue to suggest improvements for subsequent teams, which was evident this night. Sarah suggested we have premade signs in Ukrainian identifying the meat and vegetarian sandwich options, which minimized any confusion and sped up the process.
Saturday was another fast day. We set an all-time record (for our cohort) producing 5,038 sandwiches along with the various hot meal inputs for the chefs. For about two-thirds of us, tomorrow would be our last day, so we made plans to meet in the Stare Miasto (Old Town) for drinks that evening. We began in the WCK-popular Pub Niedźwiadek (Bear Cub), but eventually found our way across the square where another bar was showing the Real Madrid – Liverpool UEFA championship on an outdoor projector. Great way for the group to spend the last night together before we head our separate ways.