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Saturday, December 03, 2022

Gainesville donates $20,000 to Polish sister city to aid Ukrainian refugee efforts

Community raised funds within a day

<p>Delegates from Poland accept $20,860 presented to them by Mayor Lauren Poe and Commissioners Reina Saco and Harvey Ward, Oct. 26, 2022.</p>

Delegates from Poland accept $20,860 presented to them by Mayor Lauren Poe and Commissioners Reina Saco and Harvey Ward, Oct. 26, 2022.

Gainesville commissioners welcomed international Polish city officials Wednesday, after raising thousands in less than a day for their ongoing refugee crisis.

The Gainesville City Commission welcomed delegates from Rzeszów and presented them with $20,860 for their efforts in aiding refugees from Ukraine over the past few months.

The five-person delegation was made up of various officials from the Polish city. 

Russia began its invasion of Ukraine February, causing over 520,000 to flee the country within the first month, according to the Associated Press.

Rzeszów, which is less than two hours from Ukraine’s border, currently hosts an estimated 50,000 refugees — nearly one-fourth of the city’s citizen population — and provides education, health care and legal assistance for them.

Mayor Lauren Poe said the city hopes to learn from Rzeszów’s efforts in providing rapid, inclusionary practices for those in need.

“We, as a city, were very inspired and concerned about Rzeszów as the war in Ukraine broke out,” Poe said.

The funds were raised within 12 hours as part of the Amazing Give event held by the Community Foundation of North Central Florida. 

Given the economic burden brought on by the sudden population growth, the fundraising total will help Rzeszów provide public events, shelters and expand education opportunities for Ukrainian migrants.

Karolina Domagała, a delegate and head of the mayor’s office in Rzeszów, said the money will be especially helpful due to an expected influx of migrants in the coming months.

“We know that during the winter we will have another wave of refugees,” Domagała said.

Donations help provide education and work certification for those migrants planning to stay in Poland after relocating, she said. Ukrainian students integrate into the Polish school system, resulting in those schools needing greater infrastructure, she added.

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While the donation and relief effort is new, Gainesville’s relationship with Rzeszów spans just under a decade, as part of the Sister City Program. In total, Gainesville has nine sister cities in countries like Haiti, Nicaragua and Jordan among others.

The program connects individuals, local governments and nonprofit organizations together, allowing visiting opportunities and communication across national and language boundaries.

Steve Kalishman, chair of the Sister City Program’s Gainesville chapter, said participants gain invaluable cultural experience from the connections they form in the program.

“It’s not just seeing a museum or a church, it’s getting to know people where they’re at,” Kalishman said.

Both cities are similar in that they both serve as college towns. Prior to the ceremony, Gainesville and Rzeszów met to discuss both cities’ refugee efforts to ideally learn from each other.

While not facing the massive immigration Poland saw, Gainesville still has multiple community programs dedicated to working with refugees. 

Gators for Refugee Medical Relief, a UF student organization, works with primarily Syrian and Burmese refugees locally and in Jacksonville, offering food drives, tutoring and legal resources. The Polish delegates also attended a meeting from GRMR, and will spend the next few days meeting with migrant relief groups locally and across the state before returning.

Contact Aidan at abush@alligator.org. Follow him on Twitter @aidandisto.

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Aidan Bush

Aidan Bush is a second-year journalism major and the city and county commission reporter for the Alligator. Previously, he worked as a reporter for the Citrus County Chronicle. When not writing, he enjoys creating videos, water activities and spending time with his friends.


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