This photographer captured how activists helped migrants at the Poland-Belarus border – WYPR

Editor’s Note: Some last names are being withheld to protect the identity of people.

Kasia Wappa is helping migrants by hosting them in her house. Her family has lived in the region for generations.

/ Kasia Strek for NPR

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Kasia Strek for NPR

Kasia Wappa is helping migrants by hosting them in her house. Her family has lived in the region for generations.

As the migrant crisis evolved in November near the border of Poland and Belarus, photographer Kasia Strek spent several days documenting what she saw.

“Migrants in the woods feared everyone, which did make reporting particularly difficult,” Strek said. “Especially that as journalists, we were already banned from entering the state of emergency zone established by the Polish authorities, right beside the border with Belarus, where most of the crisis was actually taking place.”

According to Strek, people came from all over Poland to help the migrants at the border on their own.

Mohammed is from Syria. He spent the last four years in Turkey, before trying to get to the European Union. Before leaving Syria, he survived a bomb attack when he was praying in a mosque, which injured his head, an arm and a leg.

/ Kasia Strek for NPR

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Kasia Strek for NPR

Mohammed is from Syria. He spent the last four years in Turkey, before trying to get to the European Union. Before leaving Syria, he survived a bomb attack when he was praying in a mosque, which injured his head, an arm and a leg.

Since September, a wave of migrants from Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan and other countries have been camped in the sprawling Białowieża Forest at the border in freezing temperatures.

They were hoping to cross into Poland. Belarus has been accused of encouraging migrants to fly to its capital Minsk, before pushing them toward the border with Poland, and even encouraging them to clash with Polish authorities. It’s a charge that Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko’s regime has denied.

Here is what the photographer saw.

Kasia Wappa prepares to enter a local forest trying to find people who asked for help. This was known as a "silent intervention." It was organized with Grupa Granica, an activist group. They give people food, warm clothes, power banks to charge their cellphones and medical help so they can continue their journey.

/ Kasia Strek for NPR

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Kasia Strek for NPR

Kasia Wappa prepares to enter a local forest trying to find people who asked for help. This was known as a “silent intervention.” It was organized with Grupa Granica, an activist group. They give people food, warm clothes, power banks to charge their cellphones and medical help so they can continue their journey.
Left: Sangat talks to his father in Baghdad for the first time after leaving Minsk weeks earlier. When he was found by one of the local activists, he was completely wet and hadn't had any food or water in two days. Right: Sangat developed a condition known as trench foot. It is very often seen among migrants trapped in the forest at the Belarus-Polish border.

/ Kasia Strek for NPR

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Kasia Strek for NPR

Left: Sangat talks to his father in Baghdad for the first time after leaving Minsk weeks earlier. When he was found by one of the local activists, he was completely wet and hadn’t had any food or water in two days. Right: Sangat developed a condition known as trench foot. It is very often seen among migrants trapped in the forest at the Belarus-Polish border.
Kamil Syller is a lawyer who lives very close to the Belarusian border. He and his family prepared beds for people who might need help. And they use a "green light" to indicate homes in the area that can help provide shelter to refugees.

/ Kasia Strek for NPR

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Kasia Strek for NPR

Kamil Syller is a lawyer who lives very close to the Belarusian border. He and his family prepared beds for people who might need help. And they use a “green light” to indicate homes in the area that can help provide shelter to refugees.
Ammar Alshtewy left Syria running for his life as he refused to join the military and participate in armed conflict. He is a refugee in Belgium where he lives with his wife and two daughters, but when he learned that his mother and younger sister, who did not tell him that they were coming, got trapped at the Belarus-Poland border, he came to meet them.

/ Kasia Strek for NPR

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Kasia Strek for NPR

Ammar Alshtewy left Syria running for his life as he refused to join the military and participate in armed conflict. He is a refugee in Belgium where he lives with his wife and two daughters, but when he learned that his mother and younger sister, who did not tell him that they were coming, got trapped at the Belarus-Poland border, he came to meet them.
Employees and volunteers from Ocalenie Foundation, one of the main organizations helping at the border, look at their supplies during a briefing between shifts in their temporary office in Sokolka.

/ Kasia Strek for NPR

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Kasia Strek for NPR

Employees and volunteers from Ocalenie Foundation, one of the main organizations helping at the border, look at their supplies during a briefing between shifts in their temporary office in Sokolka.
Maciej Jaworski and Patryk Tamberg live in the restricted zone around the Belarus-Poland border. After accidentally meeting migrants in the forest nearby, they decided to do their best to help. They look in the areas known to be frequented by migrants in the forest hoping to bring them aid.

/ Kasia Strek for NPR

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Kasia Strek for NPR

Maciej Jaworski and Patryk Tamberg live in the restricted zone around the Belarus-Poland border. After accidentally meeting migrants in the forest nearby, they decided to do their best to help. They look in the areas known to be frequented by migrants in the forest hoping to bring them aid.
Clothes, documents and sleeping bags left behind by migrants in the woods near Narewka, Poland. The spot is known to be a meeting place with drivers, who try to bring migrants to other countries in the European Union.

/ Kasia Strek for NPR

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Kasia Strek for NPR

Clothes, documents and sleeping bags left behind by migrants in the woods near Narewka, Poland. The spot is known to be a meeting place with drivers, who try to bring migrants to other countries in the European Union.
Activists from the Ocalenie Foundation prepare their car for an intervention, by packing clothes, food, water and power banks for charging cellphones, among other supplies.

/ Kasia Strek for NPR

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Kasia Strek for NPR

Activists from the Ocalenie Foundation prepare their car for an intervention, by packing clothes, food, water and power banks for charging cellphones, among other supplies.
Police control cars looking for smugglers in Narew, near the Belarus-Poland border area.

/ Kasia Strek for NPR

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Kasia Strek for NPR

Police control cars looking for smugglers in Narew, near the Belarus-Poland border area.
Five men from Iraq were caught on the border of the forest when they were asking for food and water. They were kept in the police car until border guards arrived.

/ Kasia Strek for NPR

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Kasia Strek for NPR

Five men from Iraq were caught on the border of the forest when they were asking for food and water. They were kept in the police car until border guards arrived.
In November, at least three military camps were installed in Dubicze Cerkiewne, a small village near the restricted state of emergency zone.

/ Kasia Strek for NPR

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Kasia Strek for NPR

In November, at least three military camps were installed in Dubicze Cerkiewne, a small village near the restricted state of emergency zone.
Polish politician, Katarzyna Kretkowska, speaks during a demonstration with migrants in Hajnowka, Poland, organized by the group Mothers at the Border. People came to protest how the government was handling the crisis and to show support for those helping people trapped in the forest.

/ Kasia Strek for NPR

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Kasia Strek for NPR

Polish politician, Katarzyna Kretkowska, speaks during a demonstration with migrants in Hajnowka, Poland, organized by the group Mothers at the Border. People came to protest how the government was handling the crisis and to show support for those helping people trapped in the forest.
A nationalist march was organized in Bialystok to thank Polish security forces for protecting the borders.

/ Kasia Strek for NPR

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Kasia Strek for NPR

A nationalist march was organized in Bialystok to thank Polish security forces for protecting the borders.
A funeral for Mustafa Mohammed Murshed Al-Raimi, from Yemen, who died after crossing the Belarusian border into Poland. His brother came from Yemen for the occasion.

/ Kasia Strek for NPR

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Kasia Strek for NPR

A funeral for Mustafa Mohammed Murshed Al-Raimi, from Yemen, who died after crossing the Belarusian border into Poland. His brother came from Yemen for the occasion.
Left: After illegally crossing the border with Belarus, migrants were buried in a provided area at the cemetery in Bohoniki, Poland. Funerals were organized by members of the Tatar community, a Muslim ethnic minority group in Poland. Right: Natalia Boryslawka, a volunteer at Ocalenie Foundation, cries at the funeral of Mustafa Mohammed Murshed Al-Raimi.

/ Kasia Strek for NPR

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Kasia Strek for NPR

Left: After illegally crossing the border with Belarus, migrants were buried in a provided area at the cemetery in Bohoniki, Poland. Funerals were organized by members of the Tatar community, a Muslim ethnic minority group in Poland. Right: Natalia Boryslawka, a volunteer at Ocalenie Foundation, cries at the funeral of Mustafa Mohammed Murshed Al-Raimi.

Kasia Strek is photojournalist based in Paris, France and Warsaw, Poland. Follow her on Instagram @kasia_strek.

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