A UK-based couple have hired out an entire hotel in Poland to create a hub for refugees fleeing the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
Jakub and Gosia Golata, who immigrated to the UK in 2004, have teamed up with the Polish arm of the Sue Ryder charity to take over the Park Hotel Tryszczyn near Bydgoszcz, where Ukrainians can come to stay while they are placed with local host families.
Mr Golata, 42, told the PA news agency he was keen to take immediate action because help was not getting to the right places quickly enough.
Jakub Golata and his wife Gosia (Jakub Golata/PA)PA Media - Jakub Golata
He said: “We cannot carry on keep drinking tea and thinking about the crisis – now we’ve got hundreds of thousands people exposed to potential abuse and sleeping rough.
“We need to act now.”
Mr Golata, who works on the HS2 rail project as a logistics manager, has lived with his wife in Barrow upon Humber in North Lincolnshire for much of the last two decades.
His wife, a serving officer with Lincolnshire Police, is currently on sabbatical while she cares for her mother in Poland, so soon after the Russian invasion began he travelled to join her and to try to help with the humanitarian effort.
Jakub Golata picked up refugees in a 48-seater coach and brought them to the hotel (Jakub Golata)
Mr Golata said: “I thought ‘I need to engage and I need to help as much as I can’, but I wasn’t really sure how I could help.
“So firstly I thought ‘I need to see it with my own eyes’ to see how can I help with my knowledge, skills and experience – how can I help?”
Initially Mr Golata drove a minibus eight hours to the border, picked up refugees and found friends and family who were happy to host them.
However, after doing this a few times he felt he needed to do more.
A mass refugee centre in a former Tesco shopping centre in Przemysl (Jakub Golata)PA Media - Jakub Golata
He said: “I came up with this idea that if I would be able to rent an entire hotel and place these vulnerable mothers and children in a hotel, and then allow them to settle, feel safe, looked after and be able to come to terms what’s happening, then that that would be the best thing.
“And that would also allow me to find the local community volunteers so they can be taken care of a bit more.”
He received backing from his bosses at Skanska in the UK, who contributed funds as well as giving Mr Golata time to work on the project, and also linked up with the Polish arm of Sue Ryder to help with fundraising.
The refugees are being placed with host families in the local area (Jakub Golata)
He found a 180-bed hotel, which had closed because of the Covid pandemic, that was happy to be involved, and then used his own money to help them get running again and prepare for the arrival of the refugees.
Mr Golata then drove a 48-seater bus to the border where he picked up a number of families fleeing the violence and brought them to the hotel – focusing particularly on those from eastern parts of Ukraine where much of the worst of the violence has been.
“It was mentally very challenging because the mothers were crying – they were uncertain about what’s going to happen,” he said.
Once at the hub, he aims to match the refugees with local households who are happy to take them in for a longer period.
They will continue to provide whatever support they can, even once the refugees have moved on.
(PA Graphics)PA Graphics/Press Association Images - PA Graphics
“This refugee hubs basically provides the refugees safety and security that should the Polish family not be right for them or vice versa, they’ve got the refugee hub to go back to,” he said.
“It’s a risk reduction and also a support for both, so much as we are worrying about the refugees we are also worrying about the adopting families, because they also need support.”
Ultimately he hopes the hub will be taken over by government and the model replicated in towns all over Poland, where more than two million Ukrainians have fled so far, according to the UN.
But for now Mr Golata is working to do his bit in helping with the “huge crisis”.
“We need financial support now so we can protect the vulnerable families from human trafficking, from any form of abuse – that’s why this is needed now.
“Later, governments will step in and people will settle and things will be much better, but now we are in this huge crisis.”