‘It’s a mobilization of love’ says Dutch businessman as he and his local Warsaw community welcome Ukrainian refugees with housing and schooling
A Dutch businessman who has personally assisted and housed scores of refugees flooding from the east has praised Poland’s united front and cited the nation’s character as one of his inspirations.
Speaking to TFN, Nico Roskam who is managing director of Vion Food Group said: “I’d describe what’s happening as a ‘mobilization of love’. Am I surprised? Yes and no. In one way, the country has felt very divided in recent years.
“But as a Western European that has worked in Central Europe for the last 20-years, I still remember at the beginning when I’d meet people who had very little but still shared everything they had.
“People really helped and supported strangers back then, so I think what we’re seeing is something that’s always been inside. It’s both heartwarming and heartbreaking.”
Roskam, like everyone, had been left horrified by Russia’s invasion and after seeing news of families fleeing decided he had to help.
He said: “The next day I called my boss and told him that I was desperate to help. I didn’t have a plan, I just knew we had to get people out of there – after all, my firm has 17 or so plants with many Ukrainian employees.”
His boss’s response was emphatic: “Just go ahead, help people.”
Given carte blanche to aid incoming refugees, Roskam said he instantly started recruiting people to join him on a dash to the border.
Appealing online for others to join him, he was staggered by the response.
He said: “On the first day we were able to pick up 22 refugees. The next day we returned with five cars.”
Many of the refugees have ended up in Roskam’s own house, whilst others have been lodged courtesy of his network of friends.
Roskam said: “The reaction has been unbelievable. My kids are too old to have toys so we didn’t have anything to give to the youngest, but the moment word got out onto my street I was deluged with donations.”
He added that importantly, all sections of the local community have rallied.
He said: “With the help of a group of friends we found a house for 30 people, whilst other figures such as the local mayor have also joined us to give a structural solution.
“This is particularly important, as we need to help people live as normal life as is possible under the circumstances.”
As such, schools have stepped in, as has Roskam’s local football club to allow kids to train.
Roskam continued: “You see real fear in the people that are here. They’re in tears, they can’t contact their loved ones back home. At the same time, the children don’t really understand what’s happening. We’re trying to give them a real solid solution so they can live again.”
This, he said is key, and cautioned against short-term thinking. “It’s all very good doing something amazing now, but this isn’t going to suddenly get better in a couple of day’s time,” he said.
“We need to think intelligently about how we can help and support people several months down the line. Everyone wants to help right now, but we need to be careful to maintain that with time.”
Despite his involvement, Roskam is adamant that the heroes of the hour have been the Polish people. “This isn’t about me doing something good, I’m just a dummy that can’t speak Polish.
“The Poles have been amazing, but I just hope we can really learn something from this and move forward working together.
“Sometimes, I’ve wondered what we really learned from WWII. Putin certainly hasn’t learned much. I hope people start thinking more. I hope people starting hating less.”