By Susan Chen and Zhu Xiu-lian
Translated by Wu Hsiao-ting
Photos by Lu Pei-ling
These displaced Ukrainians were going through a hard time, but they donated what they could at Tzu Chi distributions to help others.
Tzu Chi volunteer You Yue-ying (游月英) thanks a Ukrainian mother during a distribution held in Opole, Poland. The young mother had just deposited money into a Tzu Chi coin bank to be used for charitable purposes.
By mid-June 2022, Susan Chen (陳樹微), a Tzu Chi volunteer from Germany, had been in Lublin, Poland, for about three months, organizing the foundation’s aid work for Ukrainian refugees. Tzu Chi had begun reaching out to Ukrainian refugees in Poland in March 2022, following the Russian invasion of Ukraine in February, offering gift cards and other aid in Warsaw, Lublin, Poznań, and Szczecin.
On June 12, Chen and a group of volunteers from Austria, Great Britain, the Netherlands, Taiwan, and Ukraine traveled from Lublin to Opole, a city about 500 kilometers (310 miles) away, for the upcoming distributions there. It was nearly ten at night by the time the party of nine arrived.
Opole, located in southwestern Poland, is one of the oldest cities in the country. It has a population of just under 130,000 people and boasts many notable historic buildings. When Radosław Atlas, a businessman in Opole, and his wife, Chen Hui-ru (陳惠如), learned about Tzu Chi’s humanitarian work elsewhere in Poland, they contacted the foundation. The couple wanted to work with Tzu Chi to help the refugees their city was hosting.
Six distributions were held on June 14 and 15 in Opole Stegu Arena in Opole. The city government provided the venue and aid recipient lists, and sent employees to help at the events. Radosław Atlas offered the use of trucks from his company and the help of his employees to transport Tzu Chi’s eco-blankets, made from recycled PET bottles, from Warsaw to Opole for the distributions.
The events on the two days benefited more than a thousand people. To ensure the distributions could go smoothly, city officials including Malgorzata Kozak, the director of the family assistance center, and Anna Radlak, the director of the benefits center, visited the venue the day before the events to check out the site and the preparatory work. They personally participated in the distributions too.
Considering that many recipients would be mothers with their kids in tow, the city government thoughtfully set aside a play area in the stadium. Youngsters could draw or put together jigsaw puzzles in the play area, supervised by volunteers, while their mothers filled out forms and had their identities checked to receive gift cards and blankets provided by Tzu Chi. Each gift card was loaded with 2,000 Polish zlotys (US$450).
“I don’t remember seeing any instance of charitable aid on such a large scale in my entire time in Opole,” said Arkadiusz Wiśniewski, the mayor of Opole, referring to the aid provided by Tzu Chi. He added that government financial support for the Ukrainian refugees would begin to run short in about a month. Tzu Chi’s help was like timely rain. “Let me thank you again, Tzu Chi from thousands of kilometers away. Many thanks to our Taiwanese friends.”
Deputy Mayor Przemysław Zych (right) stands next to Tim Lu (呂宗翰), from Tzu Chi headquarters in Taiwan. Lu is displaying a letter of appreciation from the Opole city government to Tzu Chi and Master Cheng Yen.
Because we are family
When the Ukrainian version of the Tzu Chi song “One Family” was played during the distributions, participants stood up and, following the lead of Tzu Chi volunteers, began signing the lyrics. The soft singing in their familiar language soothed the Ukrainians on-site and eased their homesickness. When it was time to pray, the English version of the Tzu Chi song “Prayer” began. Many closed their eyes and, with their palms pressed together or hands folded, prayed sincerely. Though they might not have understood the English lyrics, the song’s touching melody moved many to tears.
Lian Yi-ying (連怡瑩), a Tzu Chi volunteer from the Netherlands, introduced in English and Ukrainian the origin of the foundation during the distributions. She explained how Tzu Chi had started with 30 housewives each saving a little of their grocery money in bamboo coin banks every day to help the needy. She also explained that the money on the gift cards Tzu Chi was distributing came mostly from small donations raised from across the world. After hearing how small amounts of money, when put together, could be used to do a lot of good, many participants deposited money into the coin banks on-site to help other needy people. Some put in Polish bills worth as much as 20 zlotys (US$4.4).
Each distribution lasted about three hours and ran back to back. Before one distribution came to an end, participants of the next one were already lining up outside the stadium waiting to enter. It was very warm on the afternoon of the second day, so event organizers quickly allowed people into the venue. Chen Hui-ru, Radosław Atlas’s wife, served water to the waiting people. A Ukrainian woman asked her where she could buy books introducing Tzu Chi. Chen generously gave the woman a Tzu Chi book gifted her by a Tzu Chi volunteer, making the Ukrainian very happy.
When the two days’ events came to an end, Przemysław Zych, a deputy mayor of Opole, delivered a letter of appreciation on behalf of the city government to Tzu Chi volunteers and asked for it to be presented to Dharma Master Cheng Yen. Volunteer Susan Chen gave the donations they had collected over the two days via coin banks to the deputy mayor to help the city government aid more Ukrainians. Taking the heavy coin banks, the deputy mayor said, “This is the most precious thing that has happened over these two days. Even in their most difficult times, the Ukrainians gave with love!”
On June 3, a hundred days after the Russia-Ukraine war started, Amin Awad, the United Nations’ crisis coordinator for Ukraine, said in a statement: “This war has and will have no winner. Rather, we have witnessed for 100 days what is lost: lives, homes, jobs and prospects.” The Ukrainians’ homeland has been covered with the scars of war. Tzu Chi volunteers prayed that they can accompany Ukrainian refugees through this difficult time, until the day they safely return home.