Posted 3 months ago

Two Weeks On the Ukrainian Border and Raising 300k+ for Relief

On February 24th, as the Russian tanks were rolling across the border, I was sitting in my office and thinking, "I need to go." The reason I came to this conclusion is that I have lots of friends and partners in Ukraine. Mostly this is through a non-profit organization I'm very involved with called Storyline. This is an organization that develops leaders for non-profits and churches in more than 25 countries around the world.

Since many of our friends and partners there are young, with small children, the situation was urgent. When we started getting emails of panic and I saw that they were evacuating, the choice was obvious to me. I needed to go and provide relief in whatever way I could. What occurred next was a truly inspiring series of events that I will carry with me for the rest of my life.

One of the surprises early on was that my son, Brennan, approached me the day before i was to fly out, February 27th, and said, "Dad, I want to come with you. I know I can be useful." Of course, this was a ridiculous idea because he had school, and I didn't think his mom would go for it. That day I floated the idea past her and she said, "Yes, I think he should go. That would be an amazing growth experience for him." Wow, I was stunned. Additionally, his school principal gave him the all-clear. Amazing! 

Contain 800x800Mike and Brennan in Budapest, Hungary

Our first stop was Budapest.  I have a friend there that I wanted to see and consult with on the situation. After staying the night there, we hired a driver who drove us to Kosice, Slovakia. This is where one of our dear friends Margarita, her sister, mother, and two small children had evacuated to. Upon arrival and after we checked into a local boutique hotel, we reached out to Margarita and made contact. We made arrangements to meet up with her and several other women who had their kids in tow. Margarita and her sister Miroslava had been working feverishly to house as many women and children as they could in Kosice. Apartments were overcrowded and local Slovaks were also opening up their homes. The stress of the situation was overwhelming for these families. To make matters worse, their husbands and many relatives were not able to leave so they were alone in a foreign country. 

Before we left the U.S. we sent out several emails and made requests to raise money. By  February 28th, we had raised about 70K to use to help with housing, food, and medical supplies. The response continued to be amazing! We were able to wire in funds to assist our friends in Kosice and the efforts Margarita and Miroslava were engaged in to bring relief to as many as possible. I was amazed at their selflessness most of all. Here they are, refugees themselves, but they turned right around and began serving others. What amazing people they are. I was so inspired and humbled by their actions. On one of the days on the border, Brennan and I worked in the clothing tent to organize it and make it orderly for the refugees to find things they needed as they were passing through. It was very cold there, but we just kept working to keep ourselves warm.

Margarita, Miroslava, and BrennanMargarita, Miroslava, and Brennan at the Slovak-Ukrainian Border March 3, 2022

As we pulled away from the border that evening and after working all day, Margarita and Miroslava began to sing. I was so touched by their voices that I began to weep. These precious people have lost their homeland and are on the run, yet here they are singing and finding joy in the service of their fellow refugees. The sheer indomitable strength of their character in the middle of this crisis was one of the most amazing things I've ever witnessed. I am so honored to call them my friends.

Brennan and I traveled to Poland next. Our aim there was to continue to share resources with our partners and attempt to get truckloads of supplies into Ukraine. We met with a lot of leaders in Krakow and strategized, networked, and executed our plan. Over the next week, we saw a lot more funding come in. By the time we left and returned to the US, more than 300K would be raised for medical supplies, food, and supplies for evac runs that were made by our partners in Rivne. The men there are heroes. They made over 100 trips into the most dangerous parts of Kyiv in the early part of the war to evac more than 800 people. Our organization provided about $20,000 for gas and tires for these evac runs. Their bravery is something that is hard to put into words. They described that they needed to drive 100km per hour in some places to lower the risk of being shot. Many of the vans were in fact shot at during these evac runs. We were so grateful that we could provide the funding for these rescue operations. What an honor. A couple of weeks ago, we delivered a new van that we were able to purchase in Germany for more evac and supply runs that continue to this day.

In summary, there is so much more to tell about this trip. There's the story of helping a guy named Bob who didn't speak Russian or Ukrainian get out safely and arranging for his evacuation. There are the Azerbaijanis we rode with on the bus trip from Krakow back to Kosice who told us of terrible things they saw in Kyiv as they were heading back to Baku to start life all over again. The stories go on and on. The takeaway for me is that the triumph of the human spirit in the midst of tragedy is truly remarkable. Our Ukrainian friends are displaying bravery that I've never seen anywhere before. Also, the generosity of people in the U.S. was breathtaking. The relief we are bringing through our nonprofit work could not have been done without them. 

I hope for peace for Ukraine and for these precious people to be able to return home. I'm thankful for the time we were able to take and run over there to help in a small way to bring relief to our friends. It was and is, like many things in life, a team effort. And I'm honored to be a part of it.

Comments (1)

  1. Great work mike, and so awesome to do it with your son.