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Hajnówka. The management of the Białowieża National Park allegedly refused to allow social activists to look for a migrant

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The District Prosecutor’s Office in Hajnówka (Podlaskie Voivodeship) received a notification regarding Michał Krzysiak, former director of the Białowieża National Park, who allegedly refused to allow social activists to enter the strict reserve in search of an Afghan in need of help. The man’s body was found a month later. Krzysiak tells us that he was on sick leave during this period. The local police want to exclude themselves from the case.

– This has been bothering me for a long time. It’s high time to apply the law as it is supposed to be – said Mariusz Kurnyta, an activist of the Podlasie Volunteer Humanitarian Emergency Service, known as the Man of the Forest, in a dramatic recording.

He stated that he had just left the headquarters of the District Prosecutor’s Office in Hajnówka, where he submitted a report on the suspicion of committing a crime by Michał Krzysiak, dismissed at the beginning of January, the former director of the Białowieża National Park. – Everything is in the hands of the courts, everything is in the hands of the prosecutor’s office – emphasized the Forest Man in the recording.

They wanted to find a migrant in need of help (illustrative photo) Wojciech Pacewicz/PAP

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The Afghan’s family sent a request for help

He tells us that it all started on the evening of February 20 last year, when Piotr Czaban, also a member of the above-mentioned humanitarian emergency service, was contacted by the family of Mohammad, a 27-year-old Afghan who crossed the Polish-Belarusian border illegally and fainted in the forest.

– The family also sent a location indicating the place where this man was located. He was supposed to be left alone because the people he crossed the border with were sent back to Belarus, says Kurnyta.

They went into the forest at night

He adds that the search began immediately. – It was about 22 – points out.

Prof. went to the forest. Krzysztof Schmidt from the Institute of Mammal Biology of the Polish Academy of Sciences located in Białowieża.

– Time mattered. There was another institute employee and one volunteer with me. The police were notified about the case. And from what I know, they informed the Border Guard about everything, says Prof. Schmidt.

They saw the guards

He adds that he and the other people saw two guards.

– It was when we were leaving the forest after several hours of unsuccessful searching. We told them we didn’t find anyone. They went to where we came from to look for this man, says the professor.

He points out that the migrant was supposed to be in a strict reserve.

– Before I entered this area, I sent information to the authorities of the Białowieża National Park. Sending such information is obligatory and we have fulfilled this obligation, the scientist notes.

They wanted to keep looking

The search was resumed on February 22 in the morning. The team included, among others: journalist Adam Wajrak and prof. Rafał Kowalczyk from the Institute of Mammal Biology.

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– We did not set off on February 21 because there was a very strong wind that day, but in the strict reserve there are many old trees that may break in such a wind. Entering the reserve that day would pose a threat to our lives and health, says Prof. Kowalczyk.

They claim that they notified the police

He adds that on February 21, they notified the police that they would like to enter the reserve the next day, and the police informed the park management about this fact.

– On February 22, in the morning the weather improved and we entered the reserve. However, around 10 a.m., near the footbridge on the Hwoźna River, two park guards – to our surprise – set up a makeshift barrier and told us that we could not enter the strict reserve, says Prof. Kowalczyk.

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He adds that the explanations that they were going to look for a man who needed help were of no use.

– We also said that the police informed the park authorities that we were entering the reserve. However, the guards said that they had clear orders from the park management that we could not enter. We have a recorded conversation with them, which will be evidence in the case. Immediately after the conversation, I moved away to get a signal and called the police to inform them that we were not allowed in – notes Prof. Kowalczyk.

After a month they found the body

He went to the reserve again after less than a month, on March 21, 2023, when he entered the reserve as a scientist on leave to monitor badger holes. He took two people with him. Including Mariusz Kurnyta – the Man of the Forest – quoted at the beginning.

– At the beginning we found a bag with a burgundy shirt in it – the same one Mohammad had in the photo sent by his family. The body was lying among the floodwaters about three kilometers from the place where he was supposed to be on the first day when the search began. This means that it was moving and could be saved in February – says the Man of the Forest.

The services inform that they were also searching

The spokeswoman for the Podlaskie branch of the Border Guard, Major Katarzyna Zdanowicz, informs that the guards conducted a search operation, which unfortunately did not bring any results.

– The action was also carried out in cooperation with the police. It is always the case that if we have information about someone who has crossed the border illegally, we initiate a search, he notes.

The fact that the search was carried out is also confirmed by Senior Aspirant Andrzej Grygoruk from the District Police Headquarters in Hajnówka, noting that in addition to police officers, officers of the Border Guard and Park Guard also took part in them.

– The activities carried out did not lead to finding this person – he emphasizes.

When asked whether it is true that people who wanted to look for the migrant notified the police and the police informed the park authorities, he says that he cannot provide such information because the case is subject to prosecutorial proceedings.

Failure to fulfill official duties

The notification submitted to the prosecutor’s office by Kurnyt mentions the former director of the park’s failure to fulfill his official duties, which resulted in failure to provide assistance to a person who was in a situation threatening immediate danger of loss of life or serious damage to health.

– I hope justice will be served. Especially now, when the government has changed in Poland – notes the Man of the Forest.

Michał Krzysiak says he did not give any orders

Former director Michał Krzysiak tells us that at that time he had undergone cervical spine surgery and was on sick leave.

– I didn’t give any orders – he emphasizes.

There was a deputy at work at the time

While he was on leave, Katarzyna Kopiejczyk replaced him. – I confirm that I was replacing the director at that time – she tells us.

When we ask if it was she who made the decision not to let the people in question into the reserve, she says she doesn’t want to comment since the case has gone to the prosecutor’s office.

He adds that anyone who wants to enter the reserve must have the permission of the management.

– Even if he is a scientist and has a pass, he must inform each time that he is entering, and he can enter only to conduct scientific research – points out Kopiejczyk.

The local police want to exclude themselves from the case

The district prosecutor in Hajnówka, Jan Andrejczuk, tells us that on December 19, he sent the case files to the District Police Headquarters in Hajnówka with a request to collect evidence. However, the police filed a motion to exclude the command from the proceedings because the unit’s management knows the person concerned by the notification.

– Only the provincial commander can designate another unit – the prosecutor emphasizes.

On December 29, the prosecutor’s office sent a letter to the provincial headquarters asking for a decision on whether the proceedings should be conducted by the unit in Hajnówka or another one. No answer yet.

– The act referred to in the report on suspicion of committing a crime is punishable by up to three years’ imprisonment – emphasizes Jan Andrejczuk.

Main photo source: Wojciech Pacewicz/PAP

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