Poland rebuilds abandoned rail tracks to Ukraine to help refugees fleeing the war
KROŚCIENKO, POLAND - In a remote mountainous province in the southeast tip of Poland, surrounded by snow and bare trees, 11 burly men in orange suits are hard at work.
They are rushing to rebuild an abandoned rail line first laid more than a century ago that runs through the hills from Ukraine into Poland. They hope it will help ferry refugees escaping Russia's war on Ukraine to safety - but it's laborious work.
They are digging by hand, using pick axes and rakes to drag out rocks that were first put down when the tracks were built in the 19th century.
Its 26 degrees and you can see the steam of their breath as they drag out rotted ties and then, with a grunt and some teamwork, slide a new one in. A gas-powered drill rumbles along the tracks fixing them into place with thick 8-inch screws.
It's a three-hour drive for the workers to get here, on the southernmost border crossing with Ukraine on the outskirts of the tiny town of Krościenko. It will be a three-hour drive home when night falls.
Theirs is one of several crews trying to replace an 18-mile stretch of the line that has deteriorated beyond use. In the space of an hour they have managed to repair about 40 feet. Then it's time for a quick break.
They shuffle off to a nearby truck and pull out homemade pastries and bars of chocolate. They pour coffee and tea into mugs and pass them around.
One of the men, Jarosław, says it's good coffee and will keep him going. Another, Bogdan, puffs on a cigarette and sits quietly to the side, looking in the direction of the Smilnytsia border crossing a mile down the road that is still seeing refugees pouring over.
Poland has accepted more than 1.5 million refugees from Ukraine since Russia began its attack, and the country's President Andrzej Duda last week warned they needed more help to handle the rush.
"Unless we receive international assistance, then given the further influx of refugees to Poland on this scale, this will end up in a refugee disaster," he said on Thursday.
The resources being thrown into repairing a disused rail line is one of the clearest signs yet that Poland expects this crisis to continue for months to come, if not years.
As their break ends, the workers on the rail line toss their cigarette butts and down the last of their coffee before heading back to work. And the sound of pickaxe hitting rock echoes through the hills once more.
Ari Shapiro contributed to this story.
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