Man goes to Poland, helps Ukraine refugees firsthand
STAMFORD — A Delaware County man recently spent several days transporting Ukrainian families to homes in Poland and eastern Germany after their country was invaded by Russia in late February.
Richard Walling said he decided about a month ago to go to Ukraine to help any way he could. He said his ex-wife was Ukrainian and his mother-in-law was a partisan during World War II and had to flee the country with her husband. They were sponsored by a Mennonite family in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, and came to the U.S. after the war, he said.
“Who would think in 2022 there would be a page out of 1939?” he asked. “This war is authoritarianism versus freedom when it really comes down to it.”
Walling said he raised $3,200 and took out a $3,400 personal loan before traveling to Poland. He said he arrived in Poland on March 21, rented a nine-passenger van and drove to the border town of Przemysl, Poland.
“This is a main entry point and the railroad line stops there,” he said. “They wouldn’t let me through the border check point because it was a rental van.”
Walling, who drives for Circle of Life Ambulette service, said he transported seven families from the border at Przemysl and Medyka, Poland, to homes in Poland and eastern Germany where the families had sponsors of either family members of friends. He thanked his employer for being “extremely flexible and allowing me to go.”
“These people were fleeing for days and days and days and there was a lot of sadness in their faces,” Walling said. “It warmed my heart to see many, many vans at the border ready to help them. It was wonderful to be a part of something so big.”
Walling said he saw vans from as far away as Spain and northern Europe at the border, ready to help families fleeing the country. “People from all over Europe were going there to help out,” he said. “From the border to the door, people were there to welcome and receive them. The people of Poland are simply wonderful to open up the border like they did.”
He said in Medyka, an organization set up a tent, and underneath were strollers for families to use, and World Central Kitchen was there to provide meals to the refugees. There was a tent set up by former Chinese residents providing support with a banner that said “We stand together with Ukraine,” he said.
“Every person can make a contribution, no matter how big or small,” he said. His father, who was a World War II veteran and a college professor used to say, “We’re all in this boat together,” Walling said. “We’re all in this world together and it’s up to us to make it better.”
In addition to providing a ride to the refugees, Walling gave them some Polish money and had the van equipped with Power Bars, water, baby food, diapers and personal care items. He said he had planned to stay there two weeks, but he ran out of money and had to come home.
“I would go back in a heartbeat,” he said.
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