Retired flight attendant Cherie Morgan of Woolsey wanted to help Ukrainian refugees arriving in Poland. “I felt prompted to go aid those in need. … I am also blessed with an incredible network of friends who asked if they could send donations to be used while I was there. I wrote the daily updates to let people know not only what I was doing, but how I was spending their donations. The more I wrote, the more people asked to donate. I was honored to be receive that money and use it for those in need.”
The following is her FaceBook diary of that trip, published with her permission:
Today we went to the Krakow [Poland] Central Train Station, which is located beneath an enormous Galeria Mall. We found the location where they register people who want to volunteer, were given a vest and a small tour of the station, then set loose to help anyone and everyone.
When we arrived there were still some people sleeping in the station, and women and children were everywhere. I quickly figured out I needed to download a Ukrainian keyboard and Google Translate onto my phone. I couldn’t bring myself to take pictures of the people, so I took pictures of the Frenchies and the place where they were providing supplies for people’s pets.
There is so much the Polish people and government are offering here, they have truly opened their doors and their hearts. Things they made available, all at NO cost for Ukrainians: SIM cards; hot and cold food; food, crates and litter boxes for pets; places to sleep or rest short-term (not overnight); clothing, strollers, car seats, blankets, jackets, luggage, etc; places to stay for longer term — many in the homes of Polish people who have offered rooms; and a train ticket to anywhere the Polish trains run, whether it’s within Poland or to another country.
I still don’t speak a word of Ukrainian or Polish, but I walked 6.5 miles in the train station today leading people directly where they needed to be in order to get the help they requested.
Polish strangers who hugged me and I imagine they said Thank You.
A group from the Netherlands who arranged a bus to drive anyone who wants to go there and they had accommodations waiting for them.
An elderly woman from South Carolina who handed me a suitcase full of donations for children (clothing, diapers, coloring books, crayons) along with hand-drawn cards from her grandchildren.
American brothers who also flew over to help in any way they could and are driving a rented van across Europe and back to transport medical supplies.
They tried to offer a ride to people from Krakow to Munich, but the women were untrusting of two men. They were members of my church, so I tried to help them find people to fill their empty van, yet still no one would trust them.
Not that I blame them, but it was so sad to see the brothers leave the station, dejected, with an empty 9-seat van.
There was one mother in particular who pulled at my heartstrings. She had only left Ukraine once in her life to travel to St. Petersburg, yet she spoke English quite well. She arrived later in the day with her two children, a boy and a girl probably six and eight years old. She was in line for food (where they were only serving cold food) and she came up to me and asked me where she could go to take a shower. She had been traveling with her children for three days.
I had met some local monks a little early who were offering showers nearby, with transportation from and back to the train station, and they were out by the tent where the hot food was being served. I offered to take her to the less crowded food location and find the monks.
So we hauled her luggage all the way out of the train station, out of the enormous mall and into the town square where these other tents were located. But the monks were nowhere to be found. They were able to eat, but I felt so bad that I made them walk so far and not get what she was really looking for.
I called my hotel to see if they had any rooms still available and they told me they had one left. I should have grabbed it right then. But I went in to ask her if she’d like a room and when I called them back, it was no longer available. I was going to pay for it myself.
As I was leaving the food tent, carrying her large duffel bag for her, I was stopped by a Danish reporter who took a quick interview with me in the square. Then as she and I walked back to the train station with her children in tow, it was apparent a bit of despair was setting in for her.
She was tired, concerned about her children, scared for her husband who wasn’t allowed to leave … and when we finally got back to the office where accommodations were being arranged, she heard a volunteer there tell another woman that there were no longer any rooms available for the evening.
This is where she finally broke down and began to cry. I told her I have a small room in my hotel(it only has two twin beds) but that I would gladly share it with her and her two children for the night. She said if there was room on the floor for her children to sleep that she would accept my offer. I was ready to put her into an Uber and send her immediately so she could shower and rest.
But miraculously, the volunteer saw her crying, was just as touched as I was and told her there was a new room available in a Polish home that could take her in within the hour. She asked me if she could trust the accommodation, and I explained that they had already helped thousands of people just today.
I gave her my phone number and made her promise to call me if she needed anything.
It may not seem like much, and I know it’s something that anyone else could have done, but I’m grateful for the opportunity I’ve had to come here and assist in any way possible.
And I may have cried. Just a few times.
We still have another week here.
Today was a good day. We went back to the train station and later took an Uber to a pet store that carries cat harnesses, leashes, and has specialty food for dogs. This was something my friend found out was needed and she raised money last night to buy it.
After we returned to the station, I asked the pet station what they still needed: food for small breed dogs (almost all the dogs in the station are small breed — chihuahuas wearing sweaters, yorkies with bows in their hair, daschunds with their little swagger when they walk, etc.), packets of dog gravy to put over the hard food, cat litter, bird feed …
There is a Carrefour, which is a large grocery store, on the upper level of the galeria where the train station is located. I went up there, grabbed a cart and filled it to the brim with hard and soft food for dogs and cats, bags of litter, seeds for birds, etc., then I wheeled the shopping cart down into the train station and presented it to the volunteers at the pet station. They were so happy!
Then I went to the room where they were distributing diapers and asked them what they needed. Not diapers, but they desperately needed all hygiene items.
Please keep in mind that mostly women and children (boys under 18 and men over 60 are allowed to leave Ukraine, the rest must stay) are arriving all day, every day with everything they can fit to carry with them in a suitcase, or a duffel bag, or a shopping bag, or merely with the clothes on their backs.
They need shampoo, deodorant, toothpaste, toothbrushes, feminine pads, razors, shaving cream, shower gel, bars of soap, hand and body lotion, the volunteers asked for some candy to hand out, and on and on.
I made two more trips to Carrefour to fill up more carts for delivery.
So if you’re wondering what I did with the money people have donated through me, this is what I chose to spend it on. These much needed supplies for people and their pets. And it was a need that wasn’t being filled by the government, like their transportation. They are relying solely on donations.
I’ll share some other highlights:
Someone with a large dog (about the size of a pitbull) was trying to coax it from the platform onto the train. The dog would walk to the edge of the platform, then stop and pull back on its leash. They couldn’t convince him to step across into the train.
I approached the dog, let it smell me, he immediately licked me and was friendly. I pet him for a moment, and as I worked petting him from his front to his back, I grabbed him underneath, swiftly picked him up, and carried him onto the train. Problem solved, no coaxing needed.
Local police in the station stopped to chat and were in awe that people would fly from the U.S. to help. They were very grateful. I told them they and their people are the ones to be admired for helping and taking in so many people.
I had more Polish people hug me.
The lady and her children who I helped yesterday and nearly took to my hotel room, came and found me in the train station today to day thank me. I was so glad to see her! She told me she was put in a house with a very kind family with a nice little girl. She can stay there for one more night, but feels good about being able to find accommodations longer term in Krakow. She’s very happy she doesn’t have to go farther away from her husband. And she was freshly showered.
It seemed like there were less people today than yesterday.
I only walked 5.2 miles today.
My eyes welled up a few times, but I think I managed to keep them in check. That doesn’t mean my voice never cracked.
Oh yeah, and a Ukrainian girl, about five years old, gave ME candy. That nearly broke me.
I made my second supply run today. You guys are awesome! The money you have sent to help these Ukrainian families, I hope, is going to good use!
The hygiene supply room gave me their list of need (probably just for that hour!):
Size 5 diapers
Porridge for toddlers
Individual packets of laundry soap
Another cart was filled to the tippy top and wheeled downstairs. I couldn’t even get it into the supply room before people were asking if they could take the items they needed. Supplies were going into hands almost faster than I could get them out of the cart.
I then took an Uber to a true pet store I was told about that was also offering 30% off for the refugee effort. Yay for Leopardus!! Here I bought several pet carriers, more wet food for cats and dogs, poop bags, along with flea and tick collars that are apparently a highly requested item.
The picture might look like they’re just a few pet carriers, but each one is packed with supplies. And when I got back to the train station, once again, people were taking the supplies before they could even be separated into piles. The demand is that high!
I finally took a few people pics today. The first one is the crowd around the toiletry/diaper distribution. It is usually at least three deep at the front table.
The next two are at the pet supply area. People and their fur babies always keep these volunteers busy. And their customers are always so cute!
Another day, another couple filled up delivery carts! This is better than DoorDash!
Don’t be fooled, there are multiple layers in those carts! More for people:
Toothbrushes (children and adults)
More for pets:
Hard food for small breed dogs
Soft food for puppies
Soft food for adult dogs
Soft food for cats
And once again, items were flying out of the carts into eager hands before I could even unload them.
I’d like to get more pet transport carriers on tomorrow’s run, they can never get enough of those.
I’m here until Sunday afternoon.
And once again, you guys are AMAZING!!
But back to my regular programming, this is today’s haul from the pet store! And this time it isn’t a cart, it’s the back of my rental car!
You guys ROCK! Those are seven pet carriers and a HUGE box of wet food, harnesses and leashes, flea and tick collars, and food bowls for cats and dogs, along with the obligatory poop bags. Because everyone needs poop bags.
Oh, and I also went to get some hygiene items, but I think the Carrefour hides all the full-size shopping carts when they get busy?? I wasted half an hour at the front of the store waiting for someone to return one and not a single cart showed up. Maybe the aisles are too difficult to navigate and not properly socially distanced if the after work, grab groceries on the home, crowd all converge at once? I’ll go again tomorrow.
But there’s also a touch of reality I’ve included today. I got there later in the day and most people had been accommodated by then. But this young boy caught my attention.
It was most likely inappropriate for me to take a picture of him, but I wanted to share just a small fragment of what these people are going through.
I imagine these are his mother and grandmother. His younger brother was standing just to the right of them. They were trying to calm him, encourage him, reassure him, and every other thing a child needs to hear at such a time as this.
I can’t begin to imagine how stressful this is for anyone, but especially the children. Almost everything they’ve known so far in their short lives has been uprooted. Their home, their friends, their schooling and their fathers are all gone. It’s incomprehensible. And there are millions of them who have fled. Pause to think about that for a moment.
This morning’s quest was items for the children. The question was, what to get?
I wanted to find useful things that would last longer than just a piece of candy. Also things that wouldn’t make noise that would annoy their parents or other families around them.
What I found was hair barrettes and headbands with ears on them, fidget spinners, crayons and coloring books, and bubbles that have a little game in the lid. They were quite affordable and I was able to fill up the back of the car again.
When I got to the train station, cars were lined up by the elevators with donations from all across Europe.
I was asked to bring the goodies to the food tent in the square outside the Galeria. The tent was packed for lunch!
I couldn’t even push the cart into the tent without nearly getting mobbed! Someone helped me set up a table and I was asked to man it so the donation could stay somewhat organized.
The children flocked to the items and within about 15 minutes everything was gone.
Next I had to walk to the Main Square to start my walking tour of the Jewish Quarter. I exited the food tent to leave.
Where bubbles filled the air …
Well, today was certainly a day full of surprises.
I left the hotel in order to be at the Galeria when it opened at 9 a.m. to stock up on more goodies for the kids. But when I got there at 9:15, it wasn’t opened yet. When I googled the information it showed that it opens at 10 on Sundays. So I parked my car across the street (since the parking garage wasn’t open yet), messed around on my phone and waited for 10:00 to roll around.
Which it did — without the entrance being opened. So I drove back to my hotel around the corner and asked them when the mall opens. Surprise! It doesn’t. Not on a Sunday in a Catholic country! And here I was wondering how it is that the entire population of Krakow is found in it’s numerous malls on a Saturday, and now I know why! They’re closed today! As is just about every business except gas stations and maybe a few places to eat.
I asked the desk clerk what I could do because I had at least six hours until I needed to be at the airport for my flight to Frankfurt. The only things she could recommend was the Main Square and the Jewish Quarter.
Well, I’ve been to the Main Square several times now, so I decided to go back to the Jewish Quarter since many things were closed yesterday as it was the Jewish Sabbath.
I went to the Synagogue Remu and to the Jewish Cemetery, where it is a tradition (or myth?) that if you write your greatest wish on a piece of paper and secure it under a rock you place on the headstone of one of the great Moshe’s, that he will make sure it comes true. But you can’t ever tell anyone your wish, and you can only have one wish per lifetime. So you better make it good and you better not get drunk, stupid, and blab. So I guess I’ll never be rich and famous. LOL
But I still had plenty of time to kill so I texted a man from my church I met at the train station yesterday because he told me a group of church members were doing things locally to help. He gave me someone’s number and I was told I could come to the church building in town and they could find something for me to do. The majority of the work they’re doing is driving to the border, picking people up, and taking them where they need to go. I told them that would be great, but I’m leaving in a few hours.
While I was there though, the friend I came here with called me and told me she has tested positive for Covid, which means she obviously can’t get on a plane. Surprise! My plans changed and I told them I could drive after all.
So at least five vehicles, most of them vans, headed out to Medyka to help relocate refugees. There is a local woman who is Ukranian, so they sent her in my car to help as an interpreter.
We arrived at the Humanitarian Center in Medyka where they are taking precautions and making everyone register as a driver. You have to fill out an online form, show your passport, and get a wristband with a QR code on it.
Then when you go inside the Center, all the refugees have a different colored wristband, and the refugees are scanned to the driver, so they know who has who. It was good to see they are taking accountability of the people.
I ended up with three people in my car, and five others in their family in one of the other vans. My car had a boy about 10 years old, his mother and his grandfather.
The family lived in Kharkiv where the mother used to work for the gas company, but it was one of the first places to be bombed. So not only did she lose her job, but it cut off the gas supply to the homes. They also don’t have electricity, or money to buy food. Some flour, potatoes and chicken legs were being rationed to each family. She said everyone is always cold and hungry.
Between eight people, there was only one suitcase among them, and were there hardly any bags with personal items.
When we finally got the destination in Opole, which is about 4 hours 45 minutes from Medyka (well, it only took us 4 hours, and I was the one who was following!), it looked like some type of community center that has been turned into a shelter. There are cots lined up inside and several people were sleeping when we arrived after 11:30pm.
The grandfather stood in the parking lot and thanked me. Repeatedly. As he stood there with nothing from his now previous life, except some of his loved ones around him.
I hugged him tightly, told him God Bless You, and tried to hide my tears as I got in my car to drive 2 hours back to Krakow in the middle of the night.
So in case you’re wondering where your donations went to today, you helped relocate this family which took two tanks of gas. Tomorrow I’d still like to get more tchotchkes for the kids. Even if I end up taking them to the border.
Today I drove for ten hours.
It’s now 2:30 in the morning. Good night!!
Today I crossed the border.
The group of LDS people I met up with yesterday are organized and making runs to the border to help deliver supplies and bring people back each day.
I was told the great need is suitcases. So this morning I went back to the Galeria that is open today, since it’s not Sunday, and I loaded up many suitcases and 100 IKEA bags.
I then met up with the other guys who were also getting luggage. Wow!! We had to move those suckers out of the store on two pallets!
From there we drove straight to the border and along the way we passed several military convoys.
But please let me clarify, that apparently I was not at the border yesterday, I was in Przemysl, which is a town near the border. The refugee center is located there.
Today we continued to Medyka. This is where the border crossing [from Ukraine to Poland] is located. While I was pushing our supplies in a shopping cart from the van toward the border crossing, a man was hauling a piano through the rock filled, pot hole infested parking area.
I was told he comes here every day, with his piano, and plays for the refugees as they come across. Please watch the video and tell me if you are able to hold back the tears.
We then made our way down the welcome path toward the passport control and customs. There is a long walkway from one side to the other. There was a bench along the way on the other side (coming from Ukraine into Poland) that was covered in a large pile of what appeared to be thin aluminum blankets. I asked about them and was told this was where three babies had frozen to death overnight recently while their families waited to cross.
I now have a Ukrainian stamp in my passport.
On the Ukrainian side, the line was not as long as I thought it would be. Apparently this afternoon was a slow day. While people sang for those in line, we passed out applesauce and juice packets for the kids, water and oranges for anyone, and some luggage pieces for people who only had their belongings in grocery sacks.
We had borrowed three shopping carts from other NGOs on the Polish side with strict orders to ensure their return. Apparently carts are precious here. Several people in line asked if they could use the carts and we had to tell them no.
One man in particular found someone who spoke Ukrainian and English and asked if he could please use a cart for his wife who has cancer and his two young children, a boy under two and a little girl about four, because she is unable to carry her own bags. I worked it out for me to help them to use the cart, in order to keep our promise to return it.
The line was not moving quickly and this family was near the back. I asked the English speaker if there was a separate line for volunteers to cross, and if so, could I take them with me since she’s sick. He said if she has documentation, then she can come with me.
I went to the front of the line, pushing her young son in the child seat of the cart and was headed to enter the queue, when I was asked to give them three minutes to please to say goodbye.
Why had I not realized this moment was coming? Of course I knew this man could not come with his wife and children. He’s not allowed to leave the country. But I hadn’t thought of it until it happened. The woman was crying, the daughter was wailing, and the poor boy didn’t understand what was going on. And I stood there with the other man I had driven down with, while we both silently sobbed. It was one of the most difficult scenes I’ve witnessed. This is why the walkway to passport control is called the Path of Tears.
We promised the husband we would drive them ourselves to wherever she wanted to go in Poland. She needed to get to Lodz.
We finally got them through the line and walked into Poland. Here they were greeted with tent after tent of NGOs welcoming them, placing food, candy, and stuffed animals into their hands. The mother got a Polish SIM card. While the boy kept asking for Papa. But maybe this is the Path of Hope?
Today, I brought people across the border.
So many mixed emotions right now.
Grateful to be in Business Class going home.
Feeling guilty to be in Business Class while I leave so many displaced people behind.
Wishing I could stay longer and do more.
I’ll write more observations after I get home.
Where to start? How can I begin to do justice to the life altering events that are taking place not only in Poland, but every other country touching Ukraine’s border and beyond?
How do you make the decision to stay or go? How can you describe what it is like to pack your entire life, and that of your children, your sisters, nieces, nephews, grandparents, into something you can carry, while you leave behind your husband, sons, brothers, and father?
There are people who emigrated before the war started, who call home every day begging their elderly parents, who refuse to travel, to please come join them. There are mothers who stay behind because they have a child or parent they are caring for who is not mobile, while they send their other children to escape. There are those who go back across the border to find and rescue others who cannot help themselves. Every family dynamic is different.
Some are able to drive themselves across the border and continue on to family waiting in other countries. These people we never see because they do not need our help.
There are so many people who think, hope and pray that this war is going to end soon, so they stay nearby. Some have the means to pay for their own accommodations while they wait. An example is two women who were in my hotel every day with their small children. I would see them at breakfast, I would sometimes see them when I returned at night. And I would wonder to myself, if they have the ability to pay for a hotel for weeks, why do they not find a more permanent place to stay that would cost less? How can you entertain small children in a hotel room for days and weeks on end? Do they go out and explore this beautiful city of Krakow while they’re here? Krakow was never bombed during the wars, so it retains its baroque beauty. I never asked them any of these questions because I felt it was none of my business. Yet still, I wonder.
People flow into the central train station at all hours of every day, yet many of them don’t know where to go next. They’ve come to me, crying, asking where they can go. I would direct them to the accomodations office, but that is only for short term stays. “Where do I go?” was a resounding plea. This I could not answer for them and it haunts me. There are free trains, buses and even flights available for them, but the destination has to be selected. Do you get on a train to Berlin, a van to Rome, a bus to Rotterdam, a flight to Stockholm? How to do you choose and who will be there to guide you?
The relative calm in the frenzy still amazes me. They are kind, they are gracious, they are proud. The leap of faith they are taking is enormous. The risk they are taking is tremendous. Who can they trust? Are they and their children going to be safe? They all know the risks of human trafficking. They are very leery, if not staunchly unwilling, to get into vehicles with men. There are no safeguards in the train station for transportation, but at least at the humanitarian centers, there are protocols in place.
When I went to Przemysl, each person arriving into the humanitarian center was given a wristband with a QR code on it. Each volunteer who registered to drive had to present their passport, fill out an online form, provide their vehicle license plate, have their photo taken and were also banded with a different colored wristband.
No Ukrainian was allowed to leave the humanitarian center unless they were scanned out with a registered driver. As an aside, not here, in all my international travels where I have rented cars, Poland is the first country where I was required to have an International Driver’s Permit. This I do not have and it cannot be obtained instantly online, but for future reference — it is available through AAA. The only way I was able to get around this was to pay for the full daily insurance coverage on the car.
Poland has a long history of conflict. It would be ignorant for me to go there and not take in the events of the suffering of the Jews. It is one thing to read about history, but it adds another dimension to your understanding to visit sites, learn from tour guides, and walk upon the paths where they were imprisoned, tortured and exterminated.
Taking in the saga of the Jews while experiencing the exodus of the Ukrainians is a gut wrenching, soul searching, humbling experience. I walked every day to learn the history, to guide the families, and to navigate the city. And while I might have lost a bit of weight from my steps, what I really lost was sleep. You cannot go to Auschwitz, watch “Schindler’s List,” drive families across the country, or watch men say goodbye to their families at the border and be able to return to your safe hotel, crawl into bed and fall fast asleep. It is not possible.
Yet after all this, what I say is, if you have the inclination or the means — please go.
Get on a plane, find a hotel room, rent a car or van, and help. There is something for you do you and you will never regret it. I am eager to share contacts and information with anyone.
I would be remiss if I didn’t profoundly thank all of you who sent funds. Your donations were used to buy much needed hygiene supplies; feed and care for pets who were not left behind; distribute items to children so they could occupy their minds and little fingers and maybe for just a moment experience some joy and remember they are still children; provide luggage and transportation from the border to final destinations. You sent nearly $4,000. I am awestruck at your generosity and can promise that it was all used for such an amazing cause.
I will close this with the words from a song we sang at my church after a safety briefing we had on Sunday:
Come, come, ye Saints, no toil nor labor fear;
But with joy wend your way.
Though hard to you this journey may appear,
Grace shall be as your day.
‘Tis better far for us to strive
Our useless cares from us to drive;
Do this, and joy your hearts will swell –
All is well! All is well!
May God bless, protect and guide these women and children and their families they’ve left behind.
I am so happy to hear from Anna, the woman I met with her children in the train station on the first day I was volunteering!!
For those of you who would like to make a difference for Ukrainians and donate to a worthy cause, please check out the following charities of which I have first hand knowledge and recommend:
Caritas Ukraine — https://www.caritas.org/where-caritas-work/europe/ukraine/
Caritas Ukraine provides humanitarian assistance in the form of clothing, footwear and other necessary items to hundreds of people a week in Ukraine. This group is feeding, clothing and providing hygiene items to the refugees at the Krakow train station. This is where I delivered all the hygiene items I bought.
Save The Children — https://www.caritas.org/where-caritas-work/europe/ukraine/
This charity goes into countries to help displaced children. Theirs is a long-term commitment, and they will stay for years or even decades to ensure the long term success of these children. I met one of their emissaries who had arrived in Krakow to set up their operations there.
Type Of Wood — https://www.typeofwood.org/
This charity was set up by brothers in Idaho, who I met and worked with from Krakow to the border and back. We delivered supplied to the border that were bought with donations, then returned with our vehicles full of people. They are actively supporting volunteers who are still in Poland.