Hampstead teacher travels 5,000 miles in eight days

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Published:
17:11 29 April 2022



A teacher from Hampstead spent her Easter holidays traveling 5,000 miles across Poland to help mothers and children fleeing war in Ukraine.

Rosa Cembrowicz’s grandfather fled Poland in the 1940s and came to the UK as a refugee.

On April 4, she flew to Krakow, booked a hotel, rented a car, and traveled 5,700 kilometers in eight days, returning on Good Friday.


Dinner with Marina, 82, granddaughter Jaroslava, 18, and Lena from Kharkiv who hadn’t eaten all day. Rosa’s friend paid them to go out for dinner in Krakow before their train to Hamburg in Karoslava
– Credit: Rosa Cembrowicz

“I was born here but got a Polish passport two years ago because of Brexit,” said Rosa, a French teacher at Devonshire House Preparatory School in Arkwright Road.

“I was particularly upset at the end of February when the war broke out. Many of us cried when we heard the news. The only thing that could comfort me was to go to Poland and help.”

She contacted “long-lost cousins ​​and aunts”, scoured websites and “turned off the antennas”.

She came across an article about a Women Take The Wheel initiative, set up by a Polish woman to support refugee women and children vulnerable to sex trafficking.


Rosa with Valentina, Sasha, 5, and Lira, 12, from Kherson in the Donbass region.

Rosa with Valentina, Sasha, 5, and Lira, 12, from Kherson in the Donbass region.
– Credit: Rosa Cembrowicz

“All are volunteers with day jobs, but I had the luxury of my Easter break, so I just went over there and blitzed it, put a load of data on my phone for roaming, downloaded a few more navigation apps, studied my road map of Poland – and I’m a French teacher, I reluctantly downloaded Google Translate for Ukrainian thinking “that’s really embarrassing”, but it literally saved my life.”

Rosa traveled to Przemysl, one of eight Polish-Ukrainian border crossings within a two-hour drive, passing German fire trucks, huge humanitarian aid trucks and ‘convoy after convoy’ of tanks military aid.

She used her Polish passport to register when she arrived at the border and to point out soldiers in the parking lot.


Julia, 33, and Ksushka, 13, arrive at their hotel in Warsaw

paid for by Love Bristol who helped them with their UK visa application and hosted them for three weeks.
– Credit: Rosa Cembrowicz

“The whole philosophy of the initiative is that it is more reassuring to be driven by a woman if you are a woman traveling alone with children, and you do not speak the language, you have just arrived and you run away. adrenaline.

“As the UN has said, this is an opportunity for sex traffickers and you are vulnerable. You may not realize you are vulnerable, but the guides who run this humanitarian center have been very responsive and in half an hour, I had passengers.”

A cousin from Krakow lent her a booster seat and the Woman Take the Wheel initiative paid for her gas.

Rosa transported people and pets, including three sick dogs, to a vet in Warsaw.


Erik, 5 years old, from Kharkiv

Erik, 5 years old, from Kharkiv. Rosa drove him on a coach to Hamburg where his football club had arranged homestays with Hamburg’s St Pauli Football Club.
– Credit: Rosa Cembrowicz

She took a young boy who was traveling with his football club in Hamburg from the humanitarian aid center to his coach’s pick-up point.

“Most people were on their way to other places where they didn’t have a plan. The first family didn’t have a plan and that shocked me a bit, then I felt responsible for them and I helped them find transportation in Spain.

“There was organized public transport but not at all times and obviously not going to all destinations. It’s obviously more pleasant to be in a car with someone.

“Twice women got into my car and burst into tears. One woman said that her nephew had just been killed, who was a soldier. She had come to Poland to see her family and was returning to Lviv for her funeral the following week.”

As a gesture of solidarity, she was learning Ukrainian on Duolingo for basic conversations and putting Ukrainian music she had chosen on Spotify.


Sisters Inna, 29, Vovo, 9, Dawid, 5, and Katia, 25,

Inna, 29, Vovo, 9, Dawid, 5, and Katia, 25, from Khmelnytskyi and kyiv. When the flights seemed too expensive and overwhelming, they started talking about going back to Ukraine, so Rosa helped them get to Spain. Inna’s husband was fighting in the forest with his band of soldiers.
– Credit: Rosa Cembrowicz

“My values ​​are that it doesn’t matter if you make mistakes or don’t speak like a native speaker. If you just make that gesture of a few words, it goes a long way.”

She added: “It was the smallest thing to help them with these little things – but also the biggest thing. I would say it was a two-way thing, helping people. I have that too. removed a lot.


Half of Rosa's gas receipts paid for her gas with KzK's fundraiser

Half of Rosa’s gas revenue paid for her gas with KzK’s fundraiser – 5,700 km in eight days, two rental cars and 450 pounds of fuel.
– Credit: Rosa Cembrowicz

“It was pretty intense. I had been sitting driving for so long on the last day that I couldn’t really stand up straight or walk properly. I did three-point drives – Krakow, border, Warsaw – from very long days, but the motorways were much better than those in England, so it was easier.”

She added: “People said they stopped watching the news because it was too depressing, but it’s a positive thing. I had the time and the energy to do it, but I really think anyone [without children] can do it.

“I don’t mean fly away, I mean fly away. With a cell phone, I felt so safe. As long as you have two chargers and a battery, you can never be lost.”

The school is holding a Booster Bake Sale on May 6 for all year groups to raise funds for Kobiety za Kolko.

To donate, go to www.gofundme.com/f/WOTTW

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