GlobalIn Poland, the growth of the city of Rzeszow, a crossroads for...

In Poland, the growth of the city of Rzeszow, a crossroads for military-humanitarian aid from Ukraine

This initiative, based on the European Union’s civil protection mechanism, constitutes a real air bridge for civilians and military personnel whose state of health requires emergency medical evacuation, at a time when Ukrainian establishments are often overwhelmed or destroyed. “Our patients suffer from cancer as well as multiple trauma and serious burns. Our task is to stabilize their state of health for 24 hours, to allow them to board a medical plane from where they will join a European hospital. explains Adam Szyszka, employee of the PCPM foundation, the Polish humanitarian NGO, at the origin of this Hub.

The hangar doors then suddenly open to admit stretchers and wheelchairs. Men equipped with crutches and braces for the most able-bodied among them, come forward, immediately taken care of by the staff. The next morning, they will take a plane to Germany and the Netherlands. “Jasionka Airport is the first major international airport near Ukraine. All air evacuations are possible there until their final destination,” explain Adam Szyszka.

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From low-cost to humanitarian flights in times of war

In addition to these medical flights, the civil airport of Jasionka, which only served low-cost flights before the invasion of Ukraine, continues to be enriched with new destinations, with a Ukrainian clientele deprived of connections air on its own soil. Its tarmac will have been visited by more than a million passengers in 2023. That is an increase of more than 25% in the previously record attendance of 2019. But its landing strip hides others. 80% of Western military aid intended for neighboring kyiv passes through here. Along the airport, fences, with lots of signs prohibiting photography, have difficulty hiding these beige tents available to the American army and these khaki boxes pointed towards the sky. So many Patriot batteries, an American anti-aircraft missile system, which dot the outskirts which have become strategic.

The infrastructure reassures Damian Drupka, who admits to having prepared his children’s passports on the first day of the war in Ukraine. But there is no longer any question for this 39-year-old entrepreneur of leaving his birthplace. Its pizzeria, near Jasionka airport, is always full. “We often hear more English than Polish”, laughs the restaurateur, who never thought he would one day have to translate his menu into the language of Jack Kerouac. “To do what ? We were a town at the end of the world. We had at most one tourist per year.”

For this Pole, like all employers in the restaurant or hotel industry in the surrounding area, there was clearly a “before” and an “after” February 24, 2022. “My turnover has increased by 30% compared to before the war in Ukraine. Even out of season, we have people!” testifies Damian Drupka. And indeed, on this rainy February day, the fatigues sitting on the benches betray the origin of a new clientele: American soldiers, and other allied nationals, dispatched within the framework of NATO to Jasionka airport. That is to say around 5,000 people, the majority of whom come from the United States, permanently stationed to ensure the security of Poland and ensure Ukraine’s military supplies.

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Joe Biden and Volodymyr Zelensky, regularly passing through

The Jasionka tarmac is regularly trodden by leaders from around the world heading to the Ukrainian capital, like American President Joe Biden or his Ukrainian counterpart Volodymyr Zelensky. Damian Drupka also had the pleasant surprise of receiving an unprecedented publicity stunt, in March 2022, when the American president, visiting his soldiers, suddenly popularized – with a selfie – his pepperoni and jalapeno pizza. , who became the “spicy Joe”.

For his part, the mayor of Rzeszow, Konrad Fijolek, affirms: the metamorphosis of his city is “irreversible”. In his office, the councilor argues: “Before, we were a city on the border of the European Union, a little far from Warsaw, and even further from Brussels. All of a sudden we became the center of interest for all of Europe”.

The growth of the capital of the Subcarpathians, with 200,000 inhabitants, was accelerated by the war in Ukraine. A prospect that the reconstruction in the neighboring country certainly does not deny, according to the elected official. “In addition to the 30,000 Ukrainian refugees who have settled in the city, there are NATO soldiers and their suppliers, employees of the humanitarian sector, diplomats who pass through regularly… In short, we are an international city and we let’s stay that way.”

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