With the generous support of its readers, "Wyborcza" has successfully organized three humanitarian aid convoys reaching communities near Ukraine's front lines.
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Kharkiv, 6:00 a.m. The city wakes up to the sound of air raid sirens. Nothing unusual, we’re told. The same happened last night. We go to the Cemetery of Victims of Totalitarianism in Piatykhatky. Mrs. Krystyna Zachwatowicz-Wajda gave us flowers to place on the symbolic grave of Captain Jakub Wajda, father of the renowned Polish film director Andrzej Wajda. He was murdered together with more than 20,000 other Polish military officers in 1940 by the Soviets as part of the Katyn massacre. The prisoners of war from the Starobielsk camp were buried by their oppressors in the very forest on the outskirts of Kharkiv.

Cars pass us very rarely, few passersby on the streets. More than 2 million people lived here before the war; today, the city looks abandoned. Afraid of another major offensive by the Russians, many people have left again.

Fot. Jakub Włodek / Agencja Wyborcza.pl

Craters and debris

It's been drizzling all morning, but the sun is coming out as we reach Kupyansk. The city was liberated in October but remains a target. The front line is only 10 kilometers away.

We notice that several houses that were here back in November are gone now. Two S-300 missiles also fell on the stadium of the local soccer club. It was renovated in 2019. Now, there are two ten-meter-deep craters on the turf and debris in the stadium seats.

- Look at what the Russians are doing. The world can't condone them taking part in the Olympics- says Yuri Fedorenko, commander of a territorial defense troops unit that is fighting in the Kupyansk area. He is also a member of the council in Kyiv.

The Ukrainian government and several other countries, including Poland, have officially announced their opposition to Russia’s participation in the 2024 Paris Olympics.

Yuri suggests that there are still people in the apartment buildings on the hill. And they definitely need help. He says not to worry about the loud sounds of artillery for now, because "it's ours". - But something could happen here at any moment. The Russian military has strengthened its forces a lot recently, there are at least several thousand new soldiers- Yuri explains.

We drive between the apartment blocks. We remember how this place looked like in October, right after the city was liberated. We distributed 200 food packages here, water canisters, matches, candles... Now when we drive in, the crowds are gone. We honk the horn, someone opens a window, someone walks up to us. Another person calls the neighbors. - They shoot every morning, evening and night. Many have left. No wonder. How can you live here? - says an elderly woman. She asks if we have some medicine.

She is not the only one. - And do you have something for diabetes? - the man rolls up his leg, showing a wound. He says it's from diabetes. We explain that in Poland such drugs require a prescription. We don't have any.

A young woman picking up an aid package asks us about sanitary pads or diapers for the elderly. She is taking care of her sick grandmother. We have some, the last package got misplaced in the car. We left all the rest  at the hospital in Kharkiv this morning.

- Can I take some for my neighbors, too? They are at work. Their house got destroyed in a shelling four days ago, a terrible tragedy- says one of the women.

Wojna w Ukrainie. 'Wyborcza' z pomocą humanitarną w Kupiańsku. Ukraina, 25 lutego 2023 r.
Wojna w Ukrainie. 'Wyborcza' z pomocą humanitarną w Kupiańsku. Ukraina, 25 lutego 2023 r.  Fot. Jakub Włodek / Agencja Wyborcza.pl

Wojna w Ukrainie. 'Wyborcza' z pomocą humanitarną w Kupiańsku. Ukraina, 25 lutego 2023 r.
Wojna w Ukrainie. 'Wyborcza' z pomocą humanitarną w Kupiańsku. Ukraina, 25 lutego 2023 r.  Fot. Jakub Włodek / Agencja Wyborcza.pl

„We have to live somehow"

We bought the humanitarian aid with money donated by "Wyborcza’s" readers supporting our fundraiser on zrzutka.pl. Each package weighs 15-18 kilograms: oil, sugar, groats, rice, pasta, milk, canned goods, dishwashing liquid, coffee, tea, soap, sanitary pads...

On average, a package like this costs as much as a quarter of a pension. - May God reward you with good health. You Poles are true friends, please come again - we hear as we say goodbye.

We leave the city on the hill. Across the Oskil River, in the equally devastated suburbs, there are people who need help too. Humanitarian aid rarely gets there. The main bridge was blown up, and for a while there was no way to cross the river. It is now replaced by an inflatable bridge.

As we reach the other end, we see destroyed buildings, gunshot fences, grey streets, destroyed factories. We spot three women standing in front of one of the houses. A pack of dogs runs up to us. We stop the car. Rubble all around, a tarp instead of a roof, a makeshift kitchen. This is Tania's house. It got partially destroyed in a shelling. There is a small crater in the yard -  a remnant from shelling a few days ago.

- Tea, coffee, what can I get you?! - Tania smiles all the time. We hear gunshots somewhere in the distance. - I was injured, my head hurts a little, but everything is fine now – she tells us.

Her son shows us the kitchen. - There is no light, but we have gas- he says. A small gas stove and a sideboard, that's the whole kitchen.

Tania is still smiling: - What do we have left? We have to live somehow, despite the daily bombings.

Wojna w Ukrainie. 'Wyborcza' z pomocą humanitarną w Kupiańsku. Ukraina, 25 lutego 2023 r.
Wojna w Ukrainie. 'Wyborcza' z pomocą humanitarną w Kupiańsku. Ukraina, 25 lutego 2023 r.  Fot. Jakub Włodek / Agencja Wyborcza.pl

Explosions in Kupyansk

We say goodbye, and want to carry on. An old cargo van stops by our cars. - Do you have humanitarian aid? There are a lot of elderly and handicapped people three kilometers away from here. Will you go there? - the driver asks us.

We are going there. - There was never any humanitarian help here – we’re told. People are coming together; several of them are on crutches. Stores are far away, there is no transport.

We distribute all we have left. It's time to return to Kharkiv now. We enter the crossing next to the destroyed bridge. We hear two explosions somewhere near us, in Kupyansk. A flock of frightened birds in the sky.


With funds raised with the help of our readers, Wyborcza has already organized three humanitarian aid convoys to Ukraine. You can support our work HERE.


Every day, 400 journalists at Gazeta Wyborcza write verified, fact-checked stories about Polish politics and society, keeping a critical eye on the ruling camp’s persistent assault on democratic values and the rule of law; the growing cultural tension between religious fundamentalism and human rights; and the ongoing Russian invasion in Ukraine. Our journalists are on the front lines in 32 Polish cities, reporting from the streets, hospitals, and courtrooms about issues that move public opinion.

We decided to make our service available to everyone free of charge in order to provide access to high quality journalism for expats and English speakers interested in Polish affairs.

The access to information should be equal for all.

Gazeta Wyborcza Foundation
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