Stories from Ukraine: Border Crossings

The following is being shared by GoAbroad’s Founder, Troy Peden, as he actively volunteers in Poland and Ukraine to help Ukrainian refugees fleeing the war in Ukraine. To read Troy’s statement about the conflict, click here.

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April 17-18, 2022

The day began early in Rzeszow, Poland. John Lawler had just driven a second donated van from Newcastle full of trauma care items from Medical Aid Ukraine North East, and gifts from Newcastle School for Girls. We met in the parking lot and transferred the aid to my vehicle. I also was carrying two snow plow flashing lights with red transparent film (from Napa Auto Parts Evergreen) along with a transmission assembly to be given to Igor for his fleet traveling into the war zone hotspots. My cargo was primarily baby goods (food, diapers, etc.) along with period products donated by Evergreen High School.

I travelled to Przemysl Refugee Center at the border where I picked up Derrick, a professional driver and CDL tester from Saskatchewan. We shared some great conversation. He said he felt like he was ‘asleep’ until he arrived in Poland. He was wearing gloves because his hands were riddled in blisters from the work he had been doing at the refugee center. He also lived at the refugee center because he wanted to live like he worked.

After extensive delays we were in Ukraine and met the legend British Teacher Paul Hodgson and his partner Nadia in Lviv at the Palace Zaliznychnykiv now turned into a refugee overnight relief center. We talked and shared stories. When Igor rolled in with his convoy we were ready to make the transfer. He would hand over his 35 refugees from the war front and we would hand over the aid goods that he would return to the north and distribute. Igor is a Hollywood figure of bravery and practical military skills. His cohort shared the look and the skill set.

We fit 35 refugees into vans with 18-22 seats. In my van was a family of six with three young girls (toddlers) mother, father and grandmother. There was another mother who was ill with a hemorrhaging lung and young daughter and finally a couple with three daughters aged 5, 14 and 19. I gently told the oldest daughter that the two men may not make it through the border as all men 18 to 60 must join the fight. She said they understood and were prepared. She said her father was like a cockroach and if he has to go back he will survive. Sometimes the border is casual and soldiers wave us through and thank us for our dedication to the cause and the Ukrainian people. Other times the bureaucracy is exhausting. There were already rumors of people being turned back and Paul had escorted a woman who was rejected the day before. 23 of our passengers walked across the border with Derrick while Paul and Nadia headed back to Kyiv and Igor returned to the hot spot to gather more people and distribute diapers.

When we arrived at the Ukraine passport control, a mother was just informed that her 18 year old son would not be able to leave. She became faint, she begged, she pleaded, she held onto her son’s leg. The son’s face became ghostly white. Our first family came to the passport control and the father who was older and visibly physically limited was challenged. His military exemption paper was worn and faded. The clerk told him he needed a new one before he could cross. The only place he could get one is the city being shelled from which he came 30 hours earlier.

His oldest daughter had left at the beginning of the shelling and the rest of the family had waited in hopes of a cease fire. Eventually they reunited at our vans in Lviv. The father was denied. The 14 year old also pleaded and cried. The mother went away to a quiet and private place and cried.

Next was the family with the three little girls. There was a problem with the youngest’s paperwork. It was incomplete. They were rejected even before the father could be rejected. He turned to me and put his arms in an X cross signifying that all hope was lost. The grandmother went to the booth and began arguing then pleading then arguing and again begging. They were sent back.

Igor had returned to the Ukraine border and collected the seven rejected passengers. My tearful van continued on to Przemysl. We spent another six hours in the queue at the Poland side. The mood in the van drifted from elation to sorrow to despair. The 14 year old daughter openly sobbed for her father, then laughed about their predicament. In a day that began at 5am I was checking the last six refugees into the refugee camp near midnight. They were scared and conflicted about staying to join the fight or living, they were mourning the goodbyes to their father and simultaneously feeling a sigh of relief.

I share this story just to demonstrate that days here are roller coasters. While you are naturally seeking some positive sign that things are getting better, you are confronted with the fact that war makes everything bad. That the heartache we witness today will be inherited by these children tomorrow and people who were simply trying to live their ordinary lives are now imprisoned in a sadness caused by a man they don’t know for reasons that don’t make sense in a world that is far away from Chernihiv.

Thank you to Alpha, Bob Fulling, Dena Medley-Rivas, Shay O’Brien Gebauer, Corrine Young, Dave Hartvigsen, Cara Besse Kingsley, Joe Debiec, Margaret Van Der Werff, Sarah Catanzarite, Matthew Larsen, Karen Goubleman and the nearly 200 recent donors. What you have given with love is passed directly on with love and is saving lives.

If you are interested in sponsoring the mother and three daughters for home placement abroad please donate and message me.

If you are interested in supporting Derrick, father of three, truck driver from Saskatchewan to keep driving in Ukraine please donate and message me. (He is trying to sell his Harley so he can stay.)

If you are interested in supporting the family with the toddler girls to help pay for a place to sleep in Lviv so they don’t have to return to the hotspot please donate and message me.

If you just want to give us a message of support I will share it and I promise people will feel it and be happy that the world is watching.


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24 Hours Later

So much has happened in the past 24 hours I wanted to provide some updates.

Lviv was hit with at least five missiles shortly after we left. One of the missiles hit the bus station where our ‘father’ rejected at the border was waiting. We believe that he is okay.

The mother with the ‘hemorrhaging lung’ has gotten worse since she arrived in Poland and has been hospitalized, her daughter has been moved to a boarding facility for children.

I have taken the mother with three daughters to Lithuania where they will stay in a hostel for two weeks and look for an apartment. Incredible thank you to Ken Jones and family for always helping and for his incredible generosity now.

The family with the three toddlers are trying to figure out how to get papers for the youngest daughter. We are working with Igor in Chernihiv.

A special thank you to everyone offering to help.


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