if you will, how many beds would fit within the dropzone you call home. Imagine also, if you will, what doing that would actually be like. Now people start turning up at three in the morning with nothing more than the clothes they are wearing, after thirty hours on a train that offered them no known destination.
What do you do when the people arriving sometimes don’t function as they might, or could, or should? How do you best help a young mother intent on leaving her kids somewhere safe, so she can then return to fight? How does one comfort small children that hide under the tables every time there is aviation activity outside – because the first time they saw a helicopter up close was three days ago and it was shooting at their town? Are you prepared to receive a family that also includes like, two tortoises?
A couple of hangars, an old but well-loved club building, an assortment of caravans in varying states of repair – some clean with use, some green with moss, and brown with time. Old military hardware is a fairly common sight on airfields in central and eastern Europe, but the rusty MiG at this one is now no longer a curiosity of the old world – more a very real reminder of how close this conflict is to many of the people here in both proximity and memory. A museum piece never felt threatening before.
If there is reassurance to be found, it is in the way the Polish are acting as a whole society upon the needs of their immediate neighbours. The firewood was running low and there was no bottled water left. Now there is plenty of both, and nobody is 100% sure who donated it or how it arrived. There was nothing much for the kids to do outside, now there is a climbing set that just appeared at some point in the chaos. A local hotel brings daily meals, and all they ask for is a number.
The people passing through Sky Camp arrive with little or nothing and leave with decent essential items – sometimes to a host close by, sometimes an apartment or hotel room. Sometimes also to other cities or towns in Poland, or further West to different countries in Europe. Other Ukrainian volunteers stay to offer assistance with effort and language skills, but also what can be a reluctance to take an additional step into total uncertainty – as though acceptance of this diaspora somehow makes them complicit in it. All they really want is to turn around and go home.
– everyone that donated money and goods in Britain, our work colleagues that helped cover the costs, and most importantly the skydiving community of Sky Camp and of Poland. During the course of an overwhelming evening that none of us were really prepared for, we managed some normal skydiver conversations with the dropzone operators Marta and Sebastian – perhaps a tiny touch of normalcy among the endless tasks and challenges they adopt to keep it going. They are good people, doing what they know must be done.
Of course, we joked about throwing our rigs into the vehicles with all the boxes of stuff and aiming to ask about how we manifest on a load once we arrive. Meaning it for real, they offer to get the plane out for us – and we know that we cannot. We leave Sky Camp with a jump ticket each, to return later when things are different. Hopefully soon. Although, even if the war ends today, it would only represent the start of putting all the broken pieces back together again.
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By: Joel Strickland.