Every year for two decades, Elżbieta has made the two-hour journey from her home in Warsaw to the Polish-Belarusian border to pick mushrooms.
In 2021, she arrived at her rented vacation home near the town of Włodawa to find it very different from the quiet rural idyll she knows so well. A day before his arrival on September 4, a state of emergency had been declared and border guards were now patrolling the entrance to the city.
After Belarus opened its borders to migrants and refugees wishing to enter the EU, dozens of men, women and children made the dangerous crossing to Poland. The right-wing Polish government calls them “terrorists” and “sexual deviants”, while Polish border guards label them “illegal” and boast in social media posts about how many people they have. “Bagged” since the start of the crisis.
Like many Poles, Elżbieta has a different perspective. She was personally involved in the rescue of migrants who had difficulty crossing the forests and swamps of this part of Poland. On one occasion, three Syrian women were found almost drowned in a swamp near the border.
“They had been in the forest for two weeks. When she was found she was clinging to a piece of wood in the water, ”Elżbieta told Euronews.
“Swamps can surprise people, suddenly surrounded by water. Especially at night. “
Elżbieta learned that the women were in trouble and called the fire department, and by the time she arrived the women had been rescued. Border guards arrived and the women were taken first to a hospital in Włodawa and then to detention centers. She doesn’t know what happened to them after that.
Border guards, however, were not happy with her intervention, nor with the fact that she was increasingly involved in what is happening with refugees at the border. She told Euronews that they physically prevented her from taking pictures.
Before 1939, the border regions of Polish Kresy were where several religious and ethnic groups had lived for centuries next to each other. The rest of a Tartar Muslim community still exists, but a large part of the Jewish community was wiped out during WWII, in Nazi concentration camps like Sobibor and Treblinka, which are not far away.
For Elżbieta, the treatment of refugees here in Poland’s eastern border regions is a chilling reminder of how people doing nothing in the face of injustice led to those darkest times.
“Sobibor straddled this area, the railroad tracks leading to it run alongside it,” Elżbieta said.
“When I spoke with the border guards, they had no idea, so I told them. They came from Krakow and Kielce and were as lost here as many of the refugees. It was then that I realized how possible the Holocaust was. People are just doing their job, closing their eyes.