'Burn everything': Poland chokes on the smog of war

STORY: In search of cleaner country air a Polish family swapped the busy city streets of Krakow for this - the village of Olpiny, nestled in the Carpathian foothills.

The Tkacuks family made the leap back in 2018.

But now, with the war in Ukraine and the cutting off of Russian gas supplies, Julia Tkaczuk's quest to bring her three children up in a less polluted environment is proving harder than thought.

Local authorities have postponed a ban on the dirtiest stoves for heating, and last month air pollution in the village exceeded the norms by fourfold.

"There was just such a hope that the law would come in, then it would be an incentive. For the sake of decency, first those who can change their furnaces would do so, and then others would follow."

Poland has been one of the most polluted countries in Europe for years.

On the night of November 20, when temperatures in the Poland's second biggest city Krakow dropped below zero,

the only city in the world with worse air quality was New Delhi,

according to Airly - an organization that monitors pollution.

Poland's government has tried to clamp down on the burning of dirty fuels in homes.

But those efforts were hampered when in April Russian gas was cut off over a payment dispute.

With energy costs subsequently soaring, the ruling Law and Justice party dropped a two year ban on residents burning lignite and poor quality coal.

It also loosened restrictions on selling coal waste.

The government says the measures should be temporary - and their impact on air quality will be evaluated after the winter.

But the effects of the policy U-turn are already being felt, doctors say, at this hospital near the Czech border, where there has been an increase in respiratory problems.

Child admissions soared in November as temperatures fell, according to the paediatric ward's chief Katarzyna Musiol.

"Many studies show that children staying in a polluted environment have problems with attention, concentration, cognition and memory. Why? Because this area of the brain is affected by polluted air. The prefrontal cortex, which is responsible for these processes, is damaged. These children have impairments with these activities."

Back in the municipality where the Tkaczuks live, 40% of households are still using outdated furnaces.

One academic estimates that the suspension of the ban on their use will result in up to 1,500 premature deaths in the Malopolska province.

For Julia, whose 5-year old son has asthma, it's a serious worry.

She, like so many others, faces the struggle of keeping her family safe and warm this winter.