In western Poland, a humanitarian centre for Ukraine is open 24/7. A French association travelled from Paris to bring dozens of donations to this place that everyone here calls the “supermarket”.
It is 4.30 am when the van silently pulls up in front of a shed in the middle of Wroclaw, a big Polish city of 660,000 inhabitants.
A first man gets out of the vehicle, then a second. They are Lois and Ulrich, 35 and 65 years old, volunteers with the French association Soyons un exemple.
They have just driven from France to drop off donations collected through the association to help Ukraine.
Originally, Soyons un example was an environmental organisation. However, its president Corentin Lagallarde decided to turn it into a humanitarian association following the invasion of Ukraine by Russia on 24 February.
The aim? To bring donations to Poland and bring Ukrainian refugees back to France.
“We called the Ukrainian embassy based in Paris. They confirmed that they needed people to repatriate people and that they needed blankets, food and medicine on the spot,” explains Lois.
The two volunteers left Paris the day before at 2.30 pm in Lois’s van. Paris is 1,500 kilometres from Wroclaw. “We have to do it now before petrol gets too expensive,” Lois joked at the gas station a few hours earlier. In total, the trip will cost €750.
That night in front of the hangar, it is -4 degrees, and it seems deserted. Lois pulls out her phone and calls her local contact Jakub, the donation centre coordinator.
The two men spoke on the phone for the first time a few hours ago. A door opens, and Jakub appears, followed by 20-year-old volunteer Bartek. The young man drags a trolley with him to unload the van.
In a few minutes, the four men have emptied the van, which was initially full to bursting. “Children”, “shoes”, “baby food”: each box is carefully labelled by the volunteers of Soyons un exemple.
The place is called Czasoprzestrzen, “space-time” in English. It is open 24/7 to collect donations or refugees at any time. “Last night, just before you, some Spanish people came to drop off donations,” Jakub tells Lois and Ulrich before explaining that five to six humanitarian convoys arrive here every night from all over Europe.
The quartet enters the shed where other volunteers are busy. They are sorting, folding and tidying up everything they have received in the last few hours. The place is vast but meticulously organised.
Jakub gives a tour of the place, known as the “supermarket”.
The unloading area on the right where those who bring in donations drop them off before volunteers sort them. In the centre of the shed are boxes full of children’s and baby clothes. Each box shows the age.
The small group continues the visit. At the back on the right is the grocery shop. Tins, biscuits, baby food and juice boxes line the shelves.
A few metres further on is the pharmacy. At this stand, Ukrainians can help themselves to medicines, hygiene and baby products.
As you walk through the central aisle of the hangar, small chairs and tables are placed next to each other in front of a large tent.
“It’s like a kindergarten,” explains Bartek, “here volunteers take turns looking after the children and playing with them all day so that the mothers can do the shopping and rest a bit.
But the shed is not only home to donations for the refugees. Hundreds of military kits are hidden in the back behind a screen. “We are also preparing packages for those who stayed behind to fight in Ukraine,” explains Bartek.
“There are mattresses, first aid kits, batteries, canned food, camouflage blankets, torches, etc.,” he says. “There is even chocolate for energy and morale”.
As we leave the hangar, the day begins to dawn. It is almost six o’clock. Opposite, two large white buildings can be seen. These are the University of Wroclaw dormitories, where the rooms have been requisitioned to house the refugees.
48 hours per room per family
In Wroclaw, there is a severe lack of accommodation capacity. Jakub explains that Ukrainians can only stay here for 48 hours to allow all those who arrive each day to have at least two nights in a room.
“We then refer them to the relevant institutions,” he adds.
The city of Wroclaw is a strategic crossing point for many Ukrainians: it is easily accessible by train and close to the German border.
“At the beginning of the conflict, the refugees we saw coming in had family in Poland, money or experience abroad. Now we see all those who have been bombed and are fleeing the war,” Jakub continues.
Of the three million Ukrainians who have had to leave their country since 24 February, 1.79 million have found refuge in Poland, according to UNHCR figures from Tuesday (15 March).
“Last week, one of our volunteers picked up an elderly woman at the train station who was travelling alone. She had just travelled 16 hours by train. She had to leave her home in a hurry and was still wearing her nightgown,” reports Jakub.
For Lois and Ulrich, it was time to leave the “supermarket” in Wroclaw. Next stop was the small town of Kepno, about 80 kilometres away. There they will pick up five Ukrainians, a mother and her two daughters and an aunt and nephew, to take them back to France, where relatives are waiting.
The now-empty van starts. In the distance, we see Hala Stulecia, the exhibition hall in Wroclaw. The Ukrainian flag flies overhead. The two men turn to the hangar one last time. “This place gave me the creeps,” Ulrich says.
By Clara Bauer, reporting from Wroclaw.
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EU’s health data space
The European Commission is set to propose a new governance framework for health data with cross-border interoperability requirements and a pan-European infrastructure in the first sectorial legislation of this kind, according to a draft seen by EURACTIV.
Health at work
Parliament gave a green light on Wednesday (9 March) for a new EU strategic framework on health and safety at work, including better protection of workers from exposure to harmful substances, stress at work and repetitive motion injuries.
The European Parliament has approved an own-initiative report suggesting that cohesion policy funds could be one of the ways to reduce health inequalities, which remain huge across the EU.
Cross-border threats to health: update.
On Friday (18 March), the fourth round of interinstitutional negotiations between the Commission, European Parliament and the Council – called trilogues – on a regulation on cross-border health threats will take place. The discussions are progressing, and the main disagreements so far are to be found in article 4 regarding a health security committee, article 5 regarding the Union’s preparedness and response plan, and article 12 about joint procurement of medical countermeasures.
The disagreements on the health security committee mainly revolve around the organisation and which experts to include. For the Union preparedness and response plan, one of the disagreements is whether or not to include the word “prevention”. The Council is not too fond of this, given health remains a touchy subject for member states, who do what they can to maintain their competencies in the area.
In discussing the joint procurement of medical countermeasures, the Parliament’s position is to have more transparency when awarding public contracts or concluding procurement contracts. This includes wanting to be informed about the negotiations and having the right to scrutinise the uncensored content of all contracts. In this context, the Parliament is also pushing for a proper assessment of the European Health Emergency and Response Authority (HERA), which has been criticised for lack of transparency and involvement of the Parliament. This point is not as important to the Member States.
In the previous discussions, the parties did not manage to get through the entire agenda, so they will proceed from where they left off on Friday. According to the predictions, they are not yet approaching a final agreement, as many more technical discussions are still to be held.
Special committee: A new special committee to oversee lessons learned from the COVID-19 pandemic and make recommendations for the future has been greenlighted by the European Parliament on Thursday (10 March).
Mental health: A study found that serious COVID-19 illness is linked to an increase in the risk of long-term adverse mental health implications, such as depression and anxiety.
COVID certificate: The Council of 27 EU member states has agreed to extend the regulation establishing the EU Digital COVID Certificate by one year, until 30 June 2023, but the extension now needs to be negotiated with the European Parliament.
China’s COVID rise. China posted a steep jump in daily COVID-19 infections on Tuesday (15 March), with new cases more than doubling from a day earlier to hit a two-year high, raising concerns about the rising economic costs of the country’s tough containment measures.
Lifting COVID travel restrictions for Ukrainians. For millions of Ukrainians fleeing from the war, EU countries are lifting COVID-19 travel restrictions. However, both the EU’s infectious diseases agency (ECDC) and the European office of the World Health Organisation (WHO) highlighted the importance of ensuring vaccination coverage among refugees in the hosting countries.
2’d booster: on Tuesday (15 March), Pfizer and BioNTech submitted an application to the US Food and Drug Administration for a second booster dose of their Covid-19 vaccine for adults 65 and older, the companies announced.
In the EU, some member states have already started giving a second booster dose to elderly people over 70 or 80 years of age, even though EMA hasn’t yet issued any recommendation. “For EMA to issue a recommendation in this sense, we first need to collect sufficient clinical evidence. EMA, we’ll keep looking at all the available data on the use of a second booster dose of mRNA vaccines,” Marco Cavaleri, Head Vaccines Strategy at EMA, said at a press briefing on 3 March. He added that evidence coming from Israel is important here. Israel was the first to introduce the fourth shot.
Disability ministers call for ‘more just and inclusive’ EU. The EU needs to take additional steps to ensure people with disabilities have greater access to jobs and rights across the bloc, Sophie Cluzel, the French Secretary of State in charge of people with disabilities, told her European counterparts in Paris on Wednesday.
Healthcare in EU: The EU’s healthcare systems, already stretched from the COVID-19 pandemic, are adjusting to deal with the huge influx of new arrivals from Ukraine – numbered over 2.5 million, as of Friday (11 March).
Human trafficking: As the number of people fleeing Russia’s war in Ukraine surpasses two million, NGOs on the ground in border regions have sounded the alarm over refugees, overwhelmingly women and children, being trafficked and exploited by criminals.
Cohesion’s Action for Refugees: The European Commission adopted on Tuesday (8 March) a proposal for Cohesion’s Action for Refugees in Europe (CARE) that would allow EU countries and regions to provide emergency support to people fleeing from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Netherlands relaxes COVID-19 rules despite rising infection rate. All COVID-19 restrictions in the Netherlands will become voluntary as of next Wednesday. By Sofia Stuart Leeson | EURACTIV.com
Germany to ease abortion laws. The German government has agreed to scrap a controversial clause that has made it impossible for doctors to advise women about their available options publicly. By Julia Dahm | EURACTIV.de
A motion to raise €20 million in humanitarian aid for Ukraine has been dismissed by the state government of Mecklenburg-Western Pommerania, which is also home to Russia’s Nord Stream 2 pipeline. By Julia Dahm | EURACTIV.de
Austria suspends mandatory COVID-19 vaccine. Austria has suspended the scheme making the COVID-19 vaccine mandatory as it is not “proportional” given the current circumstances, the government decided on Wednesday. By Nikolaus J. Kurmayer | EURACTIV.de