What I saw at the border of Ukraine — helping refugees find a safe place to live
A story from Natasha
My parents came from Ukraine as refugees and found a safe and welcoming home in Rochester, NY, where a thriving community from Ukraine has made a warm and vibrant new home. I grew up speaking Ukrainian at home, and my family continues to share our memories and traditions with our church and other friends. We are still in contact with family and friends “back home.”
When the war broke out, we were heartbroken and worried for the safety of those we love, and indeed, for the survival of Ukraine, that will always hold a special place in our hearts. Because of my background, and since I still speak the language, I immediately began to wonder how I could help. With so much uncertainty in the world today, as those displaced from their homes in Ukraine struggle to find where to go next, I traveled to Romania to assist in any way possible. I work as a case manager in Catholic Charities Family and Community Services Refugee and Immigration department. After watching the turmoil in Ukraine, I decided that I needed to be there to serve in any way possible and to help those traveling to the Romanian border for safety. With the assistance of a Ukrainian organization, Agape Ministries, I was able to coordinate a 10-day trip to Romania. During my time leading up to departure, I took the initiative to collect donations. Within days, I was able to gather nearly $10,000 to take with me to Romania and offer to those in need. The money was used to purchase luggage for refugees to carry their belongings, as well as donate to local centers and families supporting and housing refugees. With much support from friends, family, and coworkers, I was ready.
I had a gut feeling that I needed to help those affected by the war, which helped calm my nerves in the days leading up to my arrival. The main purpose of my trip was to serve as an interpreter at the train stations. I aided in finding shelter, medication, food, long term housing, purchasing train tickets, and scheduling doctor appointments. Along with this, I tried to be a sense of comfort, offering conversation, food, and a cup of hot tea to those who just arrived. It is an experience like no other, seeing the desperation in their eyes. There was a thickness in the air, one you don’t understand until you are experiencing it. Being displaced from your home is such a saddening experience, but it doesn’t end there. These individuals have no other option but to travel to other cities where they don’t speak the same language, without permanent housing, and some without their family. Although the work I was doing was much needed, I couldn’t help but realize that it was only a small fraction. “Even if the war ended tomorrow, there is still so much work to be done.”
After 10 days of working day in and day out, it was time for me to return home. The secondhand trauma I experienced during my time was both physically and emotionally draining, but it was something I needed to do for my people. “If I didn’t have my faith, this experience would have put me in a downward spiral hearing about the evil in this world.” Upon returning to Rochester, I continued to advocate for those displaced by the war. We are anticipating welcoming refugees to our city, and when that time comes, I will be on the front lines to help with their transition.