© 2022 New England Public Media

FCC public inspection files:
WGBYWFCRWNNZWNNUWNNZ-FMWNNI

For assistance accessing our public files, please contact hello@nepm.org or call 413-781-2801.
NEPM Header Banner
PBS. NPR. Local Perspective.
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00
0:00
Available On Air Stations

Poland rebuilds abandoned rail tracks to Ukraine to help refugees fleeing the war

A crew of men repair an abandoned rail line that once connected this rural part of southern Poland to Ukraine.
Ben de la Cruz
/
NPR
A crew of men repair an abandoned rail line that once connected this rural part of southern Poland to Ukraine.

KROŚCIENKO, POLAND - In a remote mountainous province in the southeast tip of Poland, surrounded by snow and bare trees, 11 burly men in orange suits are hard at work.

They are rushing to rebuild an abandoned rail line first laid more than a century ago that runs through the hills from Ukraine into Poland. They hope it will help ferry refugees escaping Russia's war on Ukraine to safety - but it's laborious work.

They are digging by hand, using pick axes and rakes to drag out rocks that were first put down when the tracks were built in the 19th century.

It takes two men to carry the heavy wooden rail ties that are screwed to the tracks.
Ben de la Cruz / NPR
/
NPR
It takes two men to carry the heavy wooden rail ties that are screwed to the tracks.

Its 26 degrees and you can see the steam of their breath as they drag out rotted ties and then, with a grunt and some teamwork, slide a new one in. A gas-powered drill rumbles along the tracks fixing them into place with thick 8-inch screws.

It's a three-hour drive for the workers to get here, on the southernmost border crossing with Ukraine on the outskirts of the tiny town of Krościenko. It will be a three-hour drive home when night falls.

Theirs is one of several crews trying to replace an 18-mile stretch of the line that has deteriorated beyond use. In the space of an hour they have managed to repair about 40 feet. Then it's time for a quick break.

This crew of eleven men is one of several teams working to replace an 18 mile stretch of railroad track that runs to the Smilnytsia border crossing a mile down the road.
Ben de la Cruz / NPR
/
NPR
This crew of eleven men is one of several teams working to replace an 18 mile stretch of railroad track that runs to the Smilnytsia border crossing a mile down the road.
Left photo: Screws are used in the rail track. Right photo: The workers are digging by hand, using pick axes and rakes to drag out rocks that were first put down when the tracks were built in the 19th century.
/ Ben de la Cruz/NPR
/
Ben de la Cruz
Left photo: Screws are used in the rail track. Right photo: The workers are digging by hand, using pick axes and rakes to drag out rocks that were first put down when the tracks were built in the 19th century.

They shuffle off to a nearby truck and pull out homemade pastries and bars of chocolate. They pour coffee and tea into mugs and pass them around.

One of the men, Jarosław, says it's good coffee and will keep him going. Another, Bogdan, puffs on a cigarette and sits quietly to the side, looking in the direction of the Smilnytsia border crossing a mile down the road that is still seeing refugees pouring over.

Poland has accepted more than 1.5 million refugees from Ukraine since Russia began its attack, and the country's President Andrzej Duda last week warned they needed more help to handle the rush.

Jarosław flashes a smile.
Ben de la Cruz / NPR
/
NPR
Jarosław flashes a smile.
A mural is seen here on the side of a building near the construction on the rails.
Ben de la Cruz / NPR
/
Ben de la Cruz
A mural is seen here on the side of a building near the construction on the rails.
They are rushing to rebuilding an abandoned rail line first laid more than a century ago that runs through the Carpathian Mountains from Ukraine into Poland. They hope it will help ferry refugees escaping Russia's war on Ukraine to safety
Ben de la Cruz / NPR
/
Ben de la Cruz
They are rushing to rebuilding an abandoned rail line first laid more than a century ago that runs through the Carpathian Mountains from Ukraine into Poland. They hope it will help ferry refugees escaping Russia's war on Ukraine to safety

"Unless we receive international assistance, then given the further influx of refugees to Poland on this scale, this will end up in a refugee disaster," he said on Thursday.

The resources being thrown into repairing a disused rail line is one of the clearest signs yet that Poland expects this crisis to continue for months to come, if not years.

As their break ends, the workers on the rail line toss their cigarette butts and down the last of their coffee before heading back to work. And the sound of pickaxe hitting rock echoes through the hills once more.

tk
Ben de la Cruz / NPR
/
Ben de la Cruz
The workers are replacing the railroad ties.
tk
Ben de la Cruz / NPR
/
Ben de la Cruz
Many different tools are used to remove the railroad ties that have been in place for decades.
Crew members smoked, drank coffee and ate homemade pastries during their noon break before heading back to work.
Ben de la Cruz / NPR
/
NPR
Crew members smoked, drank coffee and ate homemade pastries during their noon break before heading back to work.
The resources being thrown into repairing a disused rail line is a clear sign that Poland expects this crisis to continue for months to come, if not years.
Ben de la Cruz / NPR
/
Ben de la Cruz
The resources being thrown into repairing a disused rail line is a clear sign that Poland expects this crisis to continue for months to come, if not years.

Ari Shapiro contributed to this story.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Patrick Wood
Patrick Wood is the digital lead for All Things Considered. Previously, he was a reporter and editor at the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.
Ben de la Cruz is an award-winning documentary video producer and multimedia journalist. He is currently a senior visuals editor. In addition to overseeing the multimedia coverage of NPR's global health and development, his responsibilities include working on news products for emerging platforms including Amazon's and Google's smart screens. He is also part of a team developing a new way of thinking about how NPR can collaborate and engage with our audience as well as photographers, filmmakers, illustrators, animators, and graphic designers to build new visual storytelling avenues on NPR's website, social media platforms, and through live events.