Nepali citizens fleeing the conflict in Ukraine have found safety thanks to a Buddhist lama and devotees at Benchen Karma Kamtsang Centre (BKKC), in the countryside of Grabnik, Poland, some 40 kilometers southwest of Warsaw. After Russia’s invasion of Ukraine began on 24 February, millions have been forced to flee, including dozens of Nepalis who have found temporary shelter and help moving forward at BKKC.
Most international aid efforts thus far have been directed at Ukrainian citizens, leaving many non-Ukrainians leaving the country unsure how to find safety.
Lama Rinchan, head monk at BKKC, heard about the Nepalis on 1 March, the day before the beginning of the Tibetan New Year celebrations. “Before going to bed, I was going through my phone, and an article published by a major Polish news outlet caught my attention. The article stated that a Polish journalist had come across a group of Nepalis who had fled Ukraine and were now stranded at Warsaw Central Station,” said Lama Rinchen. “The article said that the journalist decided to let the Nepalis take shelter at his company’s office.” (The Kathmandu Post)
Having first visited Nepal in 1989 and returned many times, Lama Rinchen felt an immediate need to help. His center, the BKKC, was established in 1995 as a branch of the Kathmandu-based Benchen Monastery in the Kagyu school of Tibetan Buddhism.
“The night I came across the news of the stranded Nepalis, it was already 9pm. But the very next day, I got in touch with the media company and drove to Warsaw, which is 40 kilometers from our center. I realised the best way to help the Nepalis was by providing them safe shelter and food,” Lama Rinchen said. “That day, we brought 23 Nepalis to stay at Grabnik’s BKKC.” (The Kathmandu Post)
Soon after, 20 more Nepalis fleeing Ukraine arrived, including 37-year-old Pacheeta Sherpa from the rural town of Jiri, some 180 kilometers east of Kathmandu. Sherpa had only arrived in Ukraine a month earlier on a work visa. After two days, Sherpa joined the now 3.5 million people fleeing Ukraine for safety.
“It wasn’t an easy decision to make. I had taken a loan of 800,000 rupees (US$10,500) to come to Ukraine, a country where I hoped to work so that I could provide a better future for my family back home,” said Sherpa. “Leaving Ukraine was the last thing I wanted to do, but I had no other option.” (The Kathmandu Post)
After taking a train to the western Ukrainian city of Lviv, Sherpa and four other Nepalis boarded a taxi to the Polish border. Soon, however, the taxi was stuck in a kilometers-long traffic jam of people flooding out of the country. The group decided to walk the rest of the way, some 80 kilometers.
“We walked nonstop for 22 hours and finally reached the Polish border. There were thousands of people waiting in line in the hopes of entering Poland. The situation was grim. We waited for another 22 hours and managed to get into Poland. We were cold, scared, and had very little to eat,” recalled Sherpa. “By the time we reached Poland, I didn’t have a single penny, but fortunately, a group of Non-Resident Nepalis (NRN) had arranged a bus to take Nepalis to a hotel in Warsaw.” (The Kathmandu Post)
However, Sherpa and fellow Nepalis soon found out that hotels in the city were giving priority to Ukrainian citizens fleeing the conflict, meaning that their place would not be guaranteed.
“It was then we were told that a Buddhist centre in the nearby town of Grabnik would house us. When I reached the center on 3 March, several Nepalis were already staying there,” he said. (The Kathmandu Post)
Shiva Pariyar, a resident of Bardibas, also arrived at the centre on the same day as Sherpa. Like Sherpa, Pariyar left Ukraine with just his passport, a pair of clothes, and whatever little money he had.
“It took me seven days to reach the Polish border. We walked for over 100 kilometers. We were so scared,” said Pariyar. “When I arrived at the center, it was the safest I felt since I left Ukraine. I ended up staying at the centre for 10 days. As someone not used to being treated like family by foreigners in a place so far from home, the stay at the center felt kind of surreal.” (The Kathmandu Post)
In addition to housing the Nepalis in Poland, the staff and volunteers at BKKC also worked to help arrange for onward journeys where the refugees might have more support. According to Lama Rinchen, “We believe that help should be given where it is needed the most, and we are so glad that Grabnik’s BKKC could do its part in helping Nepalis who were fleeing the war.” (The Kathmandu Post)
“At a time when it felt like there was nothing but darkness around us, the Buddhist center in the middle of nowhere in Poland brought much-needed light into our lives,” said Sherpa. “I don’t think I’ll ever be able to forget the kindness, compassion, and humanity that we received at the center.” (The Kathmandu Post)
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