At the beginning of October, a day care center for seniors from Ukraine, fleeing to Poland from the Russian aggression that began in February, was launched at the Galicia Jewish Museum. The day care center is a response to the needs of many who, due to the language barrier and finding themselves in a new reality, do not have easy access to warm meals and, in many cases, function on the brink of starvation and loneliness, and are looking for company with whom they can share their experiences and problems.
Until now, there has been no initiative in Krakow to provide Ukrainian refugees aged 60+ with daily full meals including refreshments and a program of activities for all days of the week. Organized by the Galicia Jewish Museum, the day care center, from Monday to Friday after 1pm, also allows them to enjoy city tours with certified guides, pursue creative activities, learn Polish, and even meet with a psychologist, helping them cope with the trauma of fleeing the war. This is especially important for people like Ms. Svetlana, who says of herself that she has already survived three wars in her country, and today is adapting in a new place, and even starting to write the poetry.
Ms. Natalia is grateful to be able to appear at the day care center. “Very often I don’t eat breakfast, and here we have drinks, sugar and baked goods, and on some days also sweet rolls. And thanks to the daily warm lunches, I can make it until the evening.”
The Galicia Jewish Museum is also involved in providing material assistance to refugees who come to the day care center or who, for various reasons, cannot make it to the building, but communicate their needs to the staff. Many of these people have health problems and difficulties obtaining a livelihood. Ms. Lidia, a 70-year-old woman from the Poltava Oblast, has difficulties moving her hand and is in need of urgent rehabilitation. In the future she will most likely not do without surgery to restore her full mobility. She is unable to take advantage of the Museum’s on-site programs because she is caring for her seven-year-old grandson while her daughter, currently the sole breadwinner in the family, is at work. That’s why the help she needs is brought directly to her home, and the Museum already financed her necessary physiotherapy treatments in November, which a family of three living on the national minimum wage could not afford on its own.
The Galicia Jewish Museum, given its own educational mission, part of which is to inform about the atrocities of war, sees in helping refugees from Ukraine the realization of its primary goals, which have guided its activities from the beginning. Jakub Nowakowski, the Museum’s director, believes that the institution has a special responsibility not to be indifferent in the face of suffering. “Do not be indifferent – the famous words of a Holocaust survivor Marian Turski recently uttered at the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp are not only about anti-Semitism. We do not want to ignore human suffering and pain. Day care centers for children, and now also for seniors, and providing jobs for refugees at the Museum, are our response to injustice. Of course, we don’t forget that we can bring help only thanks to the support of our donors: foundations and individuals from all over the world. Every meal provided, mental comfort and moment of rest is our joint contribution, and for that I am immensely grateful.”
The issue of mental comfort is something the seniors using the day care center themselves say. Ms. Olena, who came to Poland in April from the Poltava region, had to stop cancer treatment in Ukraine. Her scheduled treatment on February 24 was canceled by doctors after the Russians attacked Kiev. Fortunately, she was able to continue treatment in Poland, although she still wasn’t feeling quite right. “I came alone and it was very hard because I had no one here. I felt like I was depressed and only filled my time with walks. Today I come to the day care center to meet with my friends. It organizes my time just like work used to.” Also, Ms. Nina from Kiev stresses that it helps a lot to be able to meet friends with whom she speaks a common language. “When I arrived in Poland my life at first was focused on finding an apartment, standing in line for food and looking for humanitarian aid and clothing. Until I came to the day care center, I didn’t leave one neighborhood in the city for six months, and I mainly talked to my daughter and grandson. Today it is very important to me that I can also talk to other Ukrainian speakers,” Ms. Natalia adds, “At the day care center we support each other, share our experiences, problems and solutions. Before, I didn’t go out much, only running short errands with the children. Today I am already adapting better in Krakow.”
The seniors at the meetings at the community center unanimously state that the meetings help them and many Ukrainians they know, especially those who came to Poland alone, could find this type of initiative life-changing.
For the Museum and its staff, too, it is important that by making space and time available for Ukrainian refugees, it is possible to help and fulfill in practice the mission of the institution, which aims to spread knowledge about the atrocities of war and create awareness, including by appealing to empathy. Thus, the day care center for refugees is a logical continuation of the educational work of the Galicia Jewish Museum.