Stories from Ukraine: Gratitude

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.

Additional resources from GoAbroad:

Ukrainians waiting in line to cross border into Poland (lights on horizon are the border).

March 13, 2022

It is difficult to talk about a ‘shining light’ in this darkness or a positive side to this story. What I will say is that given this worst of possible situations, the world and you, my friends, have shown so much love and support for the suffering people of Ukraine.

I want to thank a few people in particular while I have a break from the action.

I want to thank each and every person who has contributed, who wrote letters of support, who have offered assistance, who connected us with people who have guided the mission, and everyone who has shared this project and gave us your personal support. We are very, very grateful.

I want to give a few special messages of gratitude to Ray Boswell who took it on himself to help fundraise for a van which will allow us, during this window of time, an opportunity to bring more people out of Ukraine and to temporary housing. I want to thank all the generous donors, in particular James Scott who has helped us generously both financially and through material support. I want to thank Robert Swiergocki in Poland for helping us each step of the way with the transportation solutions. I want to thank everyone who has shared stories and fundraisers from Lee Frankel, Brent Hunter, Haley Kacos, Karen Manalli, Laurie Blair Burkhart, Heidi InLondon, Lori Spanbauer, Kathy Siciliano , Mary Alice Pachamama and so many more. These are people from London to Winnebago, from Boston to Byron, from Grand Rapids to Austin.

I want to thank those who are coming over to help, in particular John Lawler and Kari Lawler of Madventurer and others who are coming or have offered to come pull up their sleeves. I want to give a huge thank you to Rachael Van Der Werff and Kayla Patterson at GoAbroad for their work in keeping the parts moving. Kayla in particular has managed lawyers for insurance, established logistics and is coordinating the purchase of the van. I want to thank my wife Mylene Peden who has allowed me to do these things and supports me in these projects while managing our crazy house in my absence, for nearly 30 years.

I want to thank every Ukrainian we have met for their incredible gratitude amidst an unimaginable heartache.

I want to acknowledge and thank my son Santiago Peden who two weeks ago was snowboarding everyday, drinking beer every night and working the lifts at Copper Mountain—the dream job of every 22 year old. He said he wanted to go and help and he wants to stay as long as he is needed. He had three days of over 20 hours of work in a row this week alone. He is amazing and I could not be more proud of his dedication and selflessness!

There are so many more people to thank and when this slows down I will take the time to do that.

Here is an update of what we are doing and what we are planning on doing:

When we arrived at the border we saw an army of generous local volunteers, young volunteers from across Europe and within a week the disaster relief organizations began arriving. We did not want to simply replace local hands doing tasks that are more efficiently delivered by local volunteers with Ukrainian language and cultural skills. Instead we looked for work that was difficult for locals to provide that we had the resources to assist with.

When the refugees arrive across the border they have survived an epic and dangerous journey sometimes lasting a week or more. Often it involved sleeping underground, eating nothing for days, and walking hundreds of miles with tired and sick children. When they arrive in Poland, Romania, Slovakia and Moldova the local countries have provided incredible transitory support with refugee camps, food and other resources. Many of the refugees have a friend or relative in Poland or elsewhere in Europe. These refugees often have no money, no belongings and no credit cards when they arrive at the border. They end up lingering in the refugee camp trying to figure out how to get to a more permanent solution. Many Europeans show up at the camps with signs offering a specific number of people temporary housing for a set time. This is a generous solution, but traveling to stay with a relative or friend is ideal.

While the refugee camps are a great gift from Poland and the other countries, you do not want to stay there any longer than you have to. They are overcrowded, chaotic, and lacking the security and continuity needed by so many of these people.

Our work has been to get mothers and their children from the border or the border refugee camps directly to a home. This relieves the pressure on the camp and is a relief for the families. When we see them we are often the first people they encounter who have not struggled with them for space on a bus or train. You can see their faces of relief when they get in the vehicle; it is sometimes the symbolic end to their dangerous journey. They are profusely grateful or often simply begin crying knowing their journey is almost over.

While I am hopeful that [the war will] not cross the border into Poland, the bombing in Ukraine is moving west. On Friday a missile strike was visible across the border. Every single person we have worked with has had stories of thousands of people who are making the same journey but stuck along the way, shell shocked, afraid to come out on the road or holed up somewhere en route. I believe that there is a window of time to run shuttles within Ukraine to help as many of these people as possible get to the Polish border as quickly as possible.

I hope I am wrong, I hope that there will be a corridor of sorts allowing a constant flow of refugees out of the war zone. If this is a limited window to move people, we want to help.

To that end, we are purchasing a van, which despite the worthy cause and despite these unusual times, there is still paperwork and bureaucracy to navigate.

Again thank you to Robert Swiergocki, Lukasz Pawlowski, James Scott, Ray Boswell and David Dawson for making that happen and a special thanks to Kayla for managing all the logistics remotely from Arizona!

Our intention beginning around March 25 will be to drive refugees out of the interior of Ukraine to the Polish border [using] the van and [then] continue to drive refugees from the border to families in Poland, Germany, Slovakia and Czech Republic (which we continue to do every day currently).

We have been connecting families with US grade schools for very specific clothing/toy/school supply drives. We are also connecting families offering homes with families who do not have a place to go.

If you have read this long passage you have already supported us in kind, in spirit, or with your love and support and I cannot thank you adequately for that.

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