Exclusive: Americans Volunteer in Polish Border Town to Send Aid into Ukraine, Help Refugees

Volunteers praying. (Kristina Wong/Breitbart News)
Kristina Wong/Breitbart News

CHEŁM, Poland — Deep inside eastern Poland, in a warehouse just 15 miles from the Ukrainian border, a group of Americans huddle in a group prayer after a long day of unloading, sorting, and preparing to ship aid to those trapped in Ukraine.

Photo of Volunteers Praying

American volunteers praying. (Kristina Wong/Breitbart News)

Most of them are with the Texas Baptist Man organization, a Christian ministry that typically does disaster relief within the United States. But in this case, they are halfway across the world.

Dan Sell, a retired software engineer for Bank of America, said he never thought he would find himself right across the border from Ukraine.

“We do disaster relief — I’ve done tornados and hurricanes. This is the first international mission that I’ve been on,” Sell told Breitbart News in an interview. “It’s been emotional. The refugees — this is all for them,” he said.

Some volunteers have come by themselves from the U.S. and other countries, compelled to help the millions of Ukrainian refugees fleeing with often little more than a backpack.

Volunteers in the warehouse (Kristina Wong/Breitbart News)

Volunteers in the warehouse. (Kristina Wong/Breitbart News)

Volunteers in the warehouse. (Kristina Wong/Breitbart News)

Volunteers in the warehouse. (Kristina Wong/Breitbart News)

“I just kind of showed up,” said Ben Whedon, an American journalist from New York and volunteer worker. “It was kind of gnawing at me… . I was about to buy a computer, and I just couldn’t hit the button. For the cost of what I was going to buy that was a total luxury. I could be here for three months.”

“With all of that going on, I just kind of went, I can’t really justify that purchase, and I just need to go and do something worthwhile. I felt like God was calling me and said, ‘It’s your turn to go and do something for me,'” he said.

The volunteers arrive at the warehouse early in the morning to take in donated goods that come from all around the world.

Trucks from all over Europe pull up carrying pallets of food, diapers, baby formula, toys, toiletries, and other goods that have, on this day, filled half of the gigantic football-field-sized warehouse.

Pre-packaged baby food and other supplies. (Kristina Wong/Breitbart News)

Prepackaged baby food and other supplies. (Kristina Wong/Breitbart News)

The volunteers get to work, unloading the pallets, unpacking the supplies, and then sorting them into bundles ready to be sent to different places in Ukraine.

Those bundles are wrapped with thick plastic wrap onto pallets and shipped off into Ukraine via trucks that either come from the West or from Ukraine to deliver back into Ukraine to places as far east as Mariupol, which is currently under siege. Sometimes, the trucks pick up refugees on their way back.

“All of this is essential goods that are bound for Ukraine. They’re coming from anywhere and everywhere,” said Whedon. “Milk, juice, flour, rice, pasta, sugar, hygiene products.”

“People from Ukraine — be they just random people who’ve got a truck and a flatbed, or somebody with a group — show up and they say where they’re going, and we just log it and hand it right over to them, put it in their vehicle, and they off and take it to Ukrainians in need,” he said.

Food and supplies wrapped in plastic (Kristina Wong/Breitbart News)

Food and supplies prepared for shipping into Ukraine. (Kristina Wong/Breitbart News)

The pace of donated goods coming in can be unpredictable. The day before, donations had started running low, and volunteers had begun to worry. They wondered if they would have enough to send into Ukraine.

Then, just that morning, trucks arrived, filled with more supplies.

“This morning when I got to the warehouse…it was mostly bare, there was almost nothing here. And two trucks came in from Calais, full of pallets,” Whedon said.

In a dark recognition of reality, none of the pallets headed into Ukraine contain medicine, so Russian forces do not try to confiscate them.

Closer to the town center is the Polish baptist church that Texas Baptist Man is partnering with, where the other part of the mission is unfolding — helping fleeing Ukrainian refugees.

So far, the church has provided aid to approximately 4,000 Ukrainian refugees who have come to Chełm, which has a train that runs all the way to Kyiv, Ukraine.

David Maksimiuk, director of the Chełm Baptist Church, said most refugees who have made their way to Chełm are “mostly very, very scared.”

He said some fled the bombing without any idea what would happen to them or where they would go.

“Every day, I hear horrible stories,” said Vitaly Sus, a Ukrainian from Belarus who is helping with the relief efforts at the church. “One woman ran out of her house, and she saw her house blow up in front of her.”

When the refugees arrive to the church, volunteers register them, feed them, and give them a warm and safe place to rest, shower, and sleep. Many come with young children, who frolic and play in a large playroom filled with crayons and toys.

“Mothers. Young women. Babies. Old people. Sick people. They leave safe lives, safe houses, and their families sometimes in two hours,” said Chełm Baptist Church Pastor Henryk Skrzypkowski.

Ukrainian refugee boy playing (Kristina Wong/Breitbart News)

Ukrainian refugee boy playing. (Kristina Wong/Breitbart News)

Ukrainian refugee girl playing. (Kristina Wong/Breitbart News)

Ukrainian refugee girl playing. (Kristina Wong/Breitbart News)

From the church, they go on to other parts of Poland or to other countries in Europe.

Maksimiuk said despite Putin gathering his forces on the Ukrainian border, the war was largely unexpected.

“In a way, one should have been prepared, given the massing of Russian troops, but a lot of people didn’t believe the war would actually happen,” he said.

But once it did, the church kicked into action.

Skrzypkowski described the influx of refugees as “like a tsunami.”

Maksimiuk acknowledged there is some worry that Russia may retaliate against Poland, but he said, “No one knows what the day will bring.”

For now, those at the church are focused on the mission to care for as many refugees and Ukrainians as possible.

Skrzypkowski said when the conflict began, he feared “every day” that his church would not be able to provide enough for those seeking safety and shelter.

Pastor Henryk sitting in a chair. (Kristina Wong/Breitbart News)

Pastor Henryk Skrzypkowski talks about relief efforts. (Kristina Wong/Breitbart News)

But with the help of donations worldwide and volunteer workers, the church has distributed more than a million dollars. He said a month ago, if someone were to tell him they would send a million dollars worth of food into Ukraine, he would have said they were “crazy.”

“Today, we sent to Ukraine more than 12,000 kilos food, which means it’s about $27,000 U.S. dollars. We do this almost every day,” he said

“I am sure for 150% that I am in a place with God’s presence,” he said. “It’s a leap of faith. First of all, we have to trust Him, and then we can do it.”

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