Jon McClean and Wil Meade, the two Langford volunteers who travelled to Poland to help refugees fleeing the war in Ukraine, have returned from their trip.
The pair travelled to Medyka, Poland to offer volunteer support to refugees fleeing the war in Ukraine. When they arrived they met with Rescuers Without Borders, an organization working in the region running a refugee camp for Ukrainians who had fled across the border. They spent two weeks doing security work for the camp to ensure the people staying there were safe, and also helping carry luggage for refugees who were arriving on foot crossing the border.
“We literally just got there and found somebody who needed some help, got him over the border and he just immediately started crying and hugging us. So I think we were a little bit naive about maybe how emotional the trip was going to be for us.”
The pair volunteered to work the overnight shift, usually arriving at the camp around 9 or 10 p.m. and leaving at around 7 a.m. the next day. McClean said there were volunteers from all over helping at the camp. They met other Canadians, doctors who flew over from Boston and others who drove from Italy to come and help. While there, they were also able to use some of the $5,000 they had raised via their GoFundMe campaign to buy diesel fuel to help heat the volunteer tent and some medical supplies to hand out.
“I was really, really impressed by simple gestures. A lot of times we felt we didn’t have a lot to offer, but the power of a simple gesture really struck me. Sometimes it’s just as simple as a hello, or a good morning and carrying someone’s luggage. You could still manage smiles and laughter from these people that are absolutely devastated,” said McClean.
The war in Ukraine, which started when Russia invaded the country on Feb. 24, is entering its fourth month, with Reuters estimating 14 million people have been displaced by the conflict. Many refugees have poured into neighbouring countries like Poland, while the first groups of refugees have started arriving in Canada recently. Meade’s partner Christina works for an interior design company that is sponsoring a Ukrainian to come to Victoria and work with the company as a carpenter. Meade says he’s also been heartened by fundraising initiatives people have been hosting throughout Greater Victoria.
“You often look back at the lottery that you won living in Canada, and that these are just regular people and now they’ve been pushed out of their jobs and the communities. They literally have what’s on their back. That was bloody hard to swallow every day,” said Meade.