Harpenden dad reflects on work supporting refugees at Ukraine-Polish border

The Operation Blessing team at the Medyka border.

The Operation Blessing team at the Medyka border. - Credit: Jonathan De Jong

A Harpenden film-maker has revealed his first hand experiences of being on the Polish border supporting Ukrainian refugees fleeing the conflict in their home country.

Father of three Jonathan De Jong lives on Highfield Oval in the town, and leads the documentary film school at YWAM (Youth With A Mission) Harpenden, a global movement of Christians operating relief and development programs in over 100 countries, working among people living in desperate circumstances. 

He has been volunteering with Operation Blessing, a Christian non-profit international organisation providing humanitarian aid such as disaster relief, safe water, and medical support.

Having previously worked with YWAM in Brazil, and hosting an Operation Blessing team during the 2014 World Cup, he was asked to come and provide support with the media in Poland.

"My first impression upon arrival at the Medyka border was that the aid and help was very decentralised. There are lots of different NGOs (non-governmental organisations) and individuals who set up tents to help those that have just crossed the border. 

"The way it is set up is that from the moment the Ukrainians cross the border there is a 300-metre corridor with people on all sides, offering aid and primary resources. At the end of this corridor, the people are put in buses and driven to locations where they can find shelter and help towards the next part of their journey. In these shelters, various NGOs help them with travel to a new destination within Europe."

He said his experiences as a volunteer involved very long days: "We stayed at the Medyka border crossing all day until 3 or 4am and then waking up early to continue with our preparations for the next shift. One thing that stood out to me was the unity between all the people offering help. Many meals have been shared or when tents needed help with fuel for heaters there where always people to help."

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As a father of three he is aware that as his daughters get older they are more conscious of what is going on around them: "When I told them that I was going to Poland I think they had mixed feelings towards it. The first thing they asked is if it was safe. They understood why I was going, but it was not easy for them.

"I have felt safe working at the border in Medyka, even when there where multiple explosions in Lviv which is very close to the border. The unpredictable development of this war has made me aware of the danger that could evolve, but as a Christian I have put my faith into action and surrendered my fears to God."

He reflected on the personal consequences of the conflict on those people he encountered: "There are so many mothers with their children that cross the border. The men are expected to stay and fight and defend their country. This has broken my heart as so many families have been torn apart, and for how long? I have been so impressed by the brave children that follow their parents into the unknown. 

"When the Ukrainians cross the border on foot, they are exhausted. They have travelled for many hours and sometimes days. The corridor that they go through once they enter Poland is like shower of love, I have been so encouraged by the love of the people who are there to help in any way they can. There are people from all over. Lots of Polish volunteers and people from countries within Europe and for example baking pancakes and providing a warm place to rest comes from such a desire to help their fellow human in need. This is what we need, responding to a need even if it costs us our comfort."