Welcoming is a normal activity in most L’Arche communities but for L’Arche Poland, open doors and friendly faces take on a new sense of urgency.
“Our houses receive individual people and families from Ukraine, who stay for a short time and then move on,” L’Arche Poland National Leader Agnieszka Karolak said. “We help them as much as we can. Mainly in providing a warm welcome and creating a safe and friendly space, as well as organizing logistics for the next stage of their journey.”
Because people living with disabilities – especially intellectual and developmental disabilities – have added risks and difficulties fleeing violence, they are often left out of aid efforts.
L’Arche Poland is among a list of communities, organizations and facilities that have banded together to offer welcome to people with disabilities, caregivers and their families fleeing war in Ukraine.
“Those who stay longer are family members of our Ukrainian assistants,” Karolak said.
There are two L’Arche communities in western Ukraine waiting and watching the advance of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s forces.
“People sit at home, watching news and praying,” one L’Arche Ukraine staff member said. “From time to time an alarm siren calls people to shelter and basements. Everyone is urged to turn out the lights as it gets darker. General drafting has been announced – no men between 18 and 60 can leave the country.”
Those who do leave join thousands seeking refuge in Poland where emergency response operations to provide care for refugees are just beginning. While large-scale efforts help thousands, continued marginalization, stigma and the requirements of additional supports often mean people living with disabilities are left out.
“Our community buses are registered and used to transport donations to the border and to bring people crossing the border to their accommodation,” Karolak said. “If anyone needs such help, you can count on us.”
L’Arche Poland has also joined other organizations to set up an emergency day care for children with disabilities to ensure everyone has access to support regardless of disability during the crisis.
“The whole of Poland is mobilizing and stands with you, along with other countries in Europe and around the world,” Karolak told L’Arche Ukraine colleagues in a recent email. “We hope that politicians will also rise to the occasion and speed up the end of this terrible war.”