Polish government-led efforts to evacuate around 200 people of Polish descent from the pro-Russian rebel-held Donbas region in eastern Ukraine got underway, Sunday.
Some 162 people are waiting at the Polish Consulate in Kharkiv to be transported to Poland within the next few days, although the exact date is being kept under wraps by the Polish authorities for security reasons.
An additional 20 people are expected to arrive at the consulate on Sunday.
Speaking to journalists on Sunday, spokesman for the Foreign Ministry Marcin Wojciechowski said that all evacuees have access to medical care, with the group ranging in terms of age.
“There is a pregnant woman in the group, but she has been given the all clear to travel, and we are making every effort to look after her,” Wojciechowski said, adding that “there are also a few dozen children, as well as entire families […] and of course a number of elderly evacuees, although they are in the minority.”
Meanwhile, Deputy Foreign Minister Konrad Pawlik is in Kharkiv to oversee the evacuation.
“We haven’t come across any serious problems, although we have had to alter our travel plans due to the weather conditions,” he said.
“We had a general plan which covered a number of scenarios, the most difficult was the transportation of these people from the Donbas to the assembly points, although from there to Kharkiv everything went according to plan,” Pawlik highlighted.
Among those who have made it to the Polish Consulate in Kharkiv is Anton Yakushevskiy from Luhansk, which was overtaken by pro-Russian rebels in April last year.
“It is impossible to describe it in one word,” he told Polish Radio. “The war has been ongoing for half a year, and even earlier I lost my job in Luhansk. I was even arrested and sentenced to death by firing squad.”
After completing consular procedures, the evacuees will be able to leave for Poland with 30kg of luggage. An airport in Malbork, northern Poland, has been opened up to international traffic especially for the evacuation efforts.
According to the Polish Foreign Ministry, the entire evacuation should be over “within a few days”.