A youth education center near Auschwitz dedicated to preserving memories of World War II and the Holocaust has opened its doors to help refugees fleeing war in the present.
Days after leaving her hometown of Nikopol, in southern Ukraine, with her mother and three daughters, Tamila Tvardovska was finally able to put her heavy bags down and rest.
The 39-year-old was among 50 refugees, mostly women and children, who arrived Sunday at the International Youth Encounter Center in Oswiecim, a quiet building that normally hosts educational events.
“I think there will be peaceful skies above our heads (here),” Tvardovska said.
The centre, which is about two kilometers from the former Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp, was intended to do everything possible to ensure that those fleeing the war in Ukraine had a safe place to stay, said Leszek Szuster, its director.
“I am pleased that in this extraordinary situation we are able to offer help to our friends in Ukraine,” he said.
So far, the center has served about 2,000 meals to refugees since early March.
The number of refugees fleeing Ukraine since Russia’s February 24 invasion has risen to more than 2.8 million, UN data showed on Monday, in what has become Europe’s fastest-growing refugee crisis since The Second World War.
At least 1.7 million of them crossed the border into Poland, where citizens stepped in to shelter refugees and non-governmental organizations and local communities mobilized volunteers to provide everything from food and water to cellphone chips.
Pavel, a 27-year-old economist, took a drag from his vape in the downtown courtyard as he recalled scenes of chaos when he fled Kiev with his girlfriend and mother shortly after the invasion began.
“We have another war in Europe and we are being saved by this place,” Pavel said.
Suddenly becoming a refugee and taking shelter in a place of historic importance like Auschwitz was surreal, he said.
More than 1.1 million men, women and children, most of them Jews, lost their lives at Auschwitz, built by Nazi Germans in occupied Poland as the largest of their concentration camps and extermination centers. The Nazis killed 6 million Jews during World War II.
Russia describes its actions as a “special operation” to demilitarize Ukraine. Ukraine and its Western allies call this an unfounded pretext for Russia’s invasion of the democratic country of 44 million people.
Just a few weeks ago, Pavel said, he was playing guitar and eating sushi in his apartment with his girlfriend.
“I don’t know what to do, I don’t know where to live. I left my life there. I do not know.”
Source: CNN Brasil
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