Professionals in Poland have found a new call: to help Ukrainian refugees

WARSAW – Six weeks ago, Alexandra Petrikovska was a transaction lawyer in Warsaw: she was an executive partner in a company in her late 30s.

When the war broke out in Europe, she withdrew from everything.

On the cold February day when Russia invaded Ukraine, Petrikovska was in Venice and recalled being devastated that he was nowhere near home to try to help. A few days later he returned to his Warsaw apartment, where a Ukrainian woman and her child began pouring into the border as refugees. That’s just the beginning.

“I gave up everything,” Petrikovska said, adding that he had completely stopped working in the corporate sector.

Across Poland, the army of civilians has stepped up its efforts to provide spare bedrooms, spare money and leisure to the approximately 2.5 million Ukrainians who have so far fled to Poland, more than any other country. But some poles have pushed their professional and financial future into uncertainty as they progress further, ending their prosperous lives indefinitely and devoting themselves full time to helping the Ukrainians.

Alexandra Petrikovska.NBC News

It was a wartime turn in the economic course of the last two years of the Govt-19 epidemic, with many disgruntled workers in various parts of the world resigning and looking for more satisfying ways to spend their time. Big resignation or big deviation.

According to Petrikovskaya, the average morning these days involves enrolling Ukrainian children in school, shopping for refugees staying in his home, finding apartments to house newcomers, or arranging to send helmets, food and medicine to those in Ukraine.

“I don’t know any other way,” she said. “We have our families, our careers and everything. But these are our closest neighbors. I hope that if we were in the same situation somehow, another nation and people would behave like this. So this is my life for now.”

The exact number of Polish citizens who have stopped businesses to help the Ukrainians is unclear, obscured by the powerful economic shortcuts of the nearby war. In a few weeks, the massive influx of Ukrainians added hundreds of thousands of Polish workers, while increasing the demand for public services.

Antek Rybinski, 31, was an architect before the war. After designing his first single-family home at the age of 19, he switched to land development and project management, working on major urban projects at leading companies in Poland.

That said, quitting is not a difficult decision. Unhappy with his job, Rybinsky began spending more time helping refugees when the war began, which his employer noticed.

“My thoughts, my head was on the border,” Rybinsky said. “I know it’s impossible to stay in the company. These refugee children and their mothers need help right now, not next month. I saw that no one would do it if we did not help.

Rybinski and his girlfriend left their apartment and clashed with his brother to make room for the nine Ukrainians they had picked up at the bus stop. As the new waves of refugees arrived, their flat became the home of a revolving cast of adults and children, who said a boy with cerebral palsy had been staying for weeks.

In the early days of the war, Rybinski and a Polish technology entrepreneur teamed up to start a new non-profit organization registered in Poland with the initial goal of saving 100,000 Ukrainian children. The name of this organization is OGDM, which means “border to flat” in Polish.

Rybinski now spends his time arranging transportation and accommodation for refugees arriving on the Polish border, which has grown from a few cars and drivers to an integrated network of about 1,500 volunteers. The organization is also working to deliver medicines to hospitals still operating in Ukraine.

Volunteers and workers gather at the offices of the OGDM, a Polish non-profit organization, in March.
Volunteers and workers gather at the offices of the OGDM, a Polish non-profit organization, in March.Courtesy Kuba Long

US Ambassador Mark Brezhinsky told NBC News at the US Embassy in Warsaw that the sacrifices made by Polish citizens every day were “a great story about humanity.”

“You have a country affected by history, victims, ex-victims, going to the border to help victims,” ​​Presinsky said.

Not everyone can suspend their business – and their salary – indefinitely. The Polish government offers refugees 40 Polish slots a day – about $ 9.40 per refugee – the minimum wage is $ 700 a month. Some have savings, others have more income from past business ventures, while others are trying to do less.

Kuba Long, a former private equity investor, ran his own software engineering company before the war. To free up time and funds to focus full-time in Ukraine, he persuaded his business partners to buy him.

Long said he and his young daughter, Hannah, are activating his finances by combining the small income of an ex-business he describes as a “limited lifestyle” that he describes as “small living expenses”. This week, he flew to Dubai as the first stop on an international tour to raise more funds for ODGM, which he co-founded with Rybinski.

While on his way to Warsaw to teach more than 1,200 Ukrainian students (OGDM support), Long rolled up his sleeve to expose the six-digit number tattooed on his hands – his grandfather’s identification number from Auschwitz, one of seven Nazi camps. Grandpa was treated.

Long shows his grandfather's Auschwitz ID number tattooed on his arm.
Long shows his grandfather’s Auschwitz ID number tattooed on his arm.NBC News

Long said that during World War II and its aftermath, Poland was left to defend itself and was forced to come to the aid of the Ukrainians.

Long said that although he was “burned out” from working in the financial sector, the sales and business skills he learned in the private sector guided his decisions in running OGDM.

“This is really a return to investment banking life,” Long said, describing the relentless speed and time demands of running a fast-growing company. “It’s been a long hour, but it’s 1,000 times more satisfying than anything I’ve ever done in my life.”

Correction (April 9, 2022, 10:33 ET): In the previous edition of this article, the name of the transaction lawyer who quit his job as a lawyer to help Ukrainian refugees was misspelled. She is Alexandra Petrikovska, not Petrikovska.

Leave a Comment