Founder of GoAbroad, Troy Peden, arrived at the Poland/Ukraine border on March 2 with a mission to help evacuate Ukrainian families from dangerous regions of the country.
“We arrived very early and the situation was unpredictable,” he told The PIE. “There was a feeling that Russia could flatten the country by air at any moment. Based on that and the fact that Ukrainian mothers and children were walking for days to get to the border, we felt that it was imperative to get as many people to the border as quickly as possible.”
Purchasing a van, GoAbroad began shuttling refugees from central and western Ukraine to the Polish border and beyond, as far as Germany, before John Lawler of Madventures arrived with additional vehicles.
Partnering with a British teacher in Turnopile who had received four vans as donations as well as Ukrainian soldiers who had transport, the team was able to enter hot spots.
“[The Ukrainian soldiers] would set up in abandoned churches or other buildings post regionally on social media until their vans were full,” Peden recalled.
“We would then meet them at Lviv, typically, and bring the passengers on to Poland. The original 12 passenger van often carried 30 passengers.”
The grief evacuees showed was overwhelming, but it was rewarding to witness the moment of relief when they were headed for the border, Peden explained.
“Sometimes they would sit and cry or show incredible and disproportionate gratitude. The system that is in place now is pretty efficient but the war itself is unpredictable as people are returning to Kyiv and Chernighiv and at the same time there may be three million refugees in Lviv.”
While life in western Ukraine may be returning to some normalcy, there are still intermittent targeted bombings on some cities.
“International volunteering creates awareness, solicits aid from abroad and creates bonds that last a lifetime”
“If the invasion ended tomorrow there would be a decade or more of work including replacing housing for a third of the population, schools, infrastructure, teachers and medical professionals are needed, mental health professionals are needed,” Peden said. “The suffering will be multi-generational.”
GoAbroad is supporting efforts in Lviv to build a base of operations to help with the recovery through volunteering and international aid.
United Planet, which won the Innovative New Volunteer Abroad Program award at this year’s GoAbroad awards, is also offering volunteer opportunities – available to English, Ukrainian, Russian, and Romanian speakers – aiming to offer administrative, logistical, healthcare and education support to refugees in Moldova.
The GoAbroad Foundation has been involved in natural disaster relief in the past, such as the Super Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines.
“I am believer in international volunteering, it creates awareness, solicits aid from abroad and creates bonds that last a lifetime,” Peden continued.
“The volunteers stimulate the local economy, provide actual physical and psychological benefits and have a life changing experience,” he said.
“Nearly everyone I met in Ukraine would ask ‘Why?’, ‘Why is this happening?’, ‘Why is this happening today in 2022?’,” Peden concluded. “The pain in Ukraine that will last for our lifetimes was completely avoidable and that makes it all the more devastating.
“Depending on the situation I hope to return in August.”