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Video | Ukraine Crisis: Secret Networks Help Refugees Get Abortions in Poland

Faced with Poland's stringent abortion laws, many refugees from Ukraine are having to turn to covert groups for help

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Her Health
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Video Producer: Priyali Sur/ Anoushka Rajesh

Video Editor: Pawan Kumar

Many Ukrainian pregnant women, find themselves in Poland - a country that severely restricts access to abortion.

Many of them want to terminate their pregnancy — either because it is the result of rape during the war, or because the war has changed their circumstances.

And a group of activists in Poland are risking being imprisoned, and are working discreetly to help such Ukrainian women refugees access abortion.

So, the Azadi Project and FIT have been trying to find out how are the feminist activists helping Ukrainian refugee women that either need an abortion or need any kind of reproductive rights help.

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Everything is so hush-hush that nobody really wants to talk about it.

With great difficulty, we got access to an organisation called Abortion Dream Team and the representative from there agreed to talk to us.

First we spoke to Justyna Wydrzyńska, Co-Founder of Abortion Dream Team, an activist collective that campaigns against abortion stigma in Poland and offers advice on safe abortions.

"Polish law says, if you want to have a legal abortion in a polish healthcare system you can do it only because of two reasons sexual violence, and when your life and your health is at risk."
Justyna Wydrzyńska, Co-Founder, Abortion Dream Team

In 2020, Poland further tightened its already restrictive abortion laws, ruling that pregnancies could be terminated only in cases of incest and rape, and when a mother’s life is at risk.

The Polish government has said that female refugees from Ukraine seeking contraception and abortions will be subject to the same rules as the Polish population.

"We do it as we do for those who live in Poland and also with other refugees, from other countries because it's not like only Ukrainian refugees are contacting us," says Justyna.

Justyna says that because Ukrainian women had access to abortion pills in their country, they know about it.

"What they want to know when they call us this is just a simple question, 'where can I order pills?'"
Justyna Wydrzyńska, Co-Founder, Abortion Dream Team
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Women that approach her team, Justyna says, explain their reason for terminating their pregnancies, they say "I have been raped, I decided to stop the pregnancy because my future is not predictable. My husband stays in Ukraine. Our house is completely destroyed."

"We hear those reasons, why people want to stop the pregnancy, but we don't value them. Because for us, it doesn't matter why you want to stop the pregnancy," she adds.

"The one thing we want to know is that this is your own choice."
Justyna Wydrzyńska, Co-Founder, Abortion Dream Team

We also spoke with Nastya Podorozhnia, Founder of the Martynka helpline, a bot on Telegram that assists Ukrainian refugees in Poland access emergency contraception, counselling, and abortion pills.

Usually in news articles when we read about women who can't have an abortion in Poland when they come from Ukraine, it is about raped women, which is obviously a terrible situation," says Nastya Podorozhnia. "That we need to speak about."

"But I also want to bring awareness that this concerns so many other people. For example, I'm thinking about a family that, they wanted to get pregnant. But unfortunately, they have lost their homes during the war and they had to do an abortion because they could neither afford it financially any more, nor afford it emotionally."
Nastya Podorozhnia, Founder, Martynka helpline

As the war continues, more Ukrainian refugees are in need of access to emergency contraception and abortion services, and activists are navigating a tough legal landscape.

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‘I’m Too Angry to Be Scared'

I tell Justyna that she's fearless. And when I ask her, 'have you ever faced any risk or challenges?' She responds, "I have a trial in the court right now."

She explained that she shared some of the abortion pills she keeps for her own use with a woman who was facing home violence at the hands of her husband.

"When her husband got this information he reported the both of us to the police and they came to their house and took the pills from this person and now I have a trial in the court," she adds.

When I ask Nastya the same question — Don't you feel scared that the work you're taking on is risky? — she says, "I am too angry to be scared, honestly."

"I don't like that I even have to think about these things. I don't like that I need to think about my safety when there are so many women that need help," says Nastya.

"When, you know, women are getting raped by Russian soldiers and I need to think about avoiding Polish police. I think it's the government that needs to be ashamed and scared."
Nastya Podorozhnia, Founder, Martynka helpline

(Priyali Sur is a journalist, Refugee & Women’s rights advocate and founder of The Azadi Project, whose mission is to enhance refugee women and girls’ voice and agency by providing digital and multimedia storytelling and psychosocial support to women in refugee camps globally.)

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