I arrived in Poland near the border with Ukraine a little over a week ago. I am the director of international disaster relief for the Virginia Beach-based humanitarian organization Operation Blessing International. My mission is to lead emergency relief efforts to help the untold numbers of refugees streaming across the border from Ukraine. Our team also includes a medical doctor, a logistics expert, a safe water expert and a media expert, so we can capture everything in images to show America what is transpiring here.
When I arrived, I immediately switched into disaster relief mode and had to align everything needed to run emergency relief operations in a location I have never been. I set up our base of operations, met with local officials, visited border crossings to get a grasp of the number of people crossing, as well as visited shelters and churches that are hosting the refugees. Some of the churches here are tiny – with only 50 members – but they have been completely transformed into shelters with mattresses on the floor everywhere you look.
Seeing this firsthand is shocking, even for me. Back home, we hear what is happening on the news. But on the ground, it is entirely different; nothing can prepare you for what you see. There are masses of people – thousands upon thousands – coming into Poland from Ukraine. There are long lines everywhere that move very slowly. The weather is freezing; some people are bordering on hypothermic. They are carrying whatever they can; all their possessions have been compacted into one small backpack. It is heartbreaking.
I’ve been a first-responder to dozens of the world’s worst disasters of the last decade, from natural disasters such as the biggest earthquakes, hurricanes, and floods, to humanitarian disasters including the massive stream of refugees that fled Venezuela into Colombia in 2019. But this situation on the Poland-Ukraine border is one of the worst I have seen yet.
Seeing this firsthand is shocking, even for me.
The number of people that are moving into Poland is staggering, especially when you consider that these people are coming to Poland without any destination – they literally have nowhere to go. They are relieved when they arrive and are safe from the violence, but then grief-struck at all they have lost.
This situation has changed my approach on how this disaster needs to be handled. Typically, Operation Blessing arrives and distributes massive amounts of donated emergency relief supplies where they are most needed. And yes, we are doing that today – we arrived with supplies including water filtration devices, solar lamps and hygiene kits, and we are purchasing additional supplies here in Poland, thanks to the generosity of our donors.
But given such massive numbers of refugees, this situation will require everyone to come together in partnership – all aid groups, governments and citizens of the world. This is going to require all of humanity coming together to save humanity. This disaster is an opportunity for the world to come together in support of these people who have left everything behind.
I pray the world is listening.