Exhausted volunteers run low on supplies as Ukraine refugee crisis enters fifth week

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Five weeks after the start of the fighting in Ukraine, Kamil Prusinowski and his small band of volunteers are exhausted at their refugee shelter over the border in Poland.

Supplies, funding and energy are all running low, Prusinowski said in a room filled with children’s toys, stuffed animals and footballs in the center housed in a former school in the village of Boratyn.

“We are just bleeding out,” the 37-year-old added. “We just require the proper institutional help to support all of these people.”

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More than 4 million Ukrainians have fled abroad since the start of what Russia calls its “special operation” in Ukraine, UN agencies say.

Almost 2.5 million of them have crossed into Poland and more are still arriving - though the numbers have slowed since the start of the war, according to Poland's border guard service.

With mattresses lying on the floor, children and their mothers waited for medical attention at the center run by the recently formed UNITATEM foundation.

Inés Jorge de Figueiredo, a 34-year-old doctor from Portugal, said she had ibuprofen and other basic supplies, but was desperately short of treatments for chronic conditions including hypertension and diabetes.

"The people need help. The need is changing, but we need to be here and our organization is struggling to get another team (of doctors to come through),” she said.

Aid groups need cash to pay their electricity, water, food bills she added. Staff there need “help to pay (for) our car to go from one center to the other center.”

Around a dozen aid workers in Boratyn, at the Przemysl train station and at the Medyka border crossing told Reuters they were tired and struggling with rain, snow, sub-zero temperatures and dwindling resources.

A Polish government spokesperson did not immediately respond to a request for comment on requests for more state aid.

Agencies at Medyka said they were trying to get more volunteers, so they could give existing workers more time off.

Some said they had already started bringing in people for just a week or two weeks at a time, before giving them a break and flying in replacements from abroad.

Refugees hid under rain ponchos and dripping tents, venturing out occasionally to offer refugees pizza, fries and hot drinks.

“People are coming with really critical needs that need to be addressed,” Shabia Mantoo, spokeswoman for the UN refugee agency UNHCR, said.

“So it’s really important for the international community to support the national responses, humanitarian actors and others that are on the ground.”

Lillian Boulard, 49, who drove a car-load of supplies from his home in Bordeaux at the beginning of the conflict and now organizes regular aid convoys from France, said supplies would run out if bigger organizations did not step in.

“The events (in Ukraine) have overtaken the NGOs (non-governmental organizations). They’re not here. Or only very little,” he said.

Refugees said they were doing their part.

“We’re trying to help here with cleaning and keeping the place tidy,” said Kateryna Rogachova, originally from Velyka Dymerka in Ukraine’s Kyiv Oblast region.

Standing next to shelves full of clothes and plastic packs of water bottles, Rogachova said the work was helping her to adjust.

“We go to other similar institutions and help there as well. We paint the walls, fold cloths, help unload the groceries,” the 49-year-old said. “Little by little, we get used to everything.”

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