3/9/2022 Joseph Project/Poland Ukraine Border Report 2
Dates: March 1-5, 2022
From: Tomer Shemesh (Director – Joseph Project/Social Delivery – Israel)
On March 1, Tomer Shemesh flew to Poland on behalf of Joseph Project on a five-day mission to provide humanitarian aid to the tens of thousands (including thousands of Jewish refugees) fleeing from Ukraine to Poland. At the time of the trip, Joseph Project was the only independent (non-state) organization providing aid at the border.
During the mission, Tomer and his team worked with several individuals, local churches, and organizations on the ground to provide first aid kits, laundry detergent, towels, hygiene kits, feminine products, food for packed meals, cereals, dry legumes and grains, toys, sleeping bags, coats, socks, and suitcases to hundreds flocking to the border.
In the city of Chelm, Tomer connected to a local Baptist church that was converted to a shelter and absorption center of sorts, receiving refugees fleeing Ukraine. The church (run by pastor Henryk Skrzypkowski) serves as a base point where people can rest, wash their clothes, recharge their batteries, and pack food as they prepare for the journey ahead. They are currently caring for hundreds of refugees who have fled with nowhere to go. Henryk said of his work, “The Jews are lucky to have Israel to receive them. I want to be Israel for those who have nowhere to go.”
Another pastor in the city of Łódź, Roman Baranowski, also converted his church into a refugee center where he and volunteers are caring for some 40 refugees at the moment.
Tomer and his team brought these churches a large supply needed food, batteries, and other requested supplies. They also helped individuals with their personal needs throughout this trip – for instance, one elderly man fled with nothing but the clothing he was wearing. Tomer gave him his own suitcase to continue his journey with. Another arrived with no coat (Ukraine and Poland still have snow!), so the team bought him a coat.
Transportation in the area was minimal, so Tomer and others drove large vans and mini-buses conveying refugees between cities to locations they could travel from after ensuring they had food, clothing, and other essentials to meet their immediate needs in the journey ahead. In total, Tomer drove over 1,500 miles transporting refugees.
In one of these drives, Tomer encountered three mothers with six small children crossing the border on foot. He instantly recognized from the expressions on their faces that they had no one coming to pick them up and no one to help them. They just stood there, waiting. Tomer communicated to them through hand gestures that he was there to help and take them to a place where they could receive food and accommodations. As they started driving, one of the children started weeping as he asked about his dad. As the child’s exhausted mother did her best to calm and comfort her child with the little energy she had, Tomer, who drove them, found himself unable to hold back his own tears as he thought of his own young son. One of the other mothers in the car, noticing Tomer’s tears, burst out laughing with laughter that broke through all the tension and sadness in a moment of unspoken connection and humanity. Of course, the heartbreaking reason this child was asking about his father is that Ukraine is currently not allowing any men between the ages of 18 and 60 to leave the country, as everyone who can fight to defend the country is being called upon to do so.
Story from a refugee at the church in Chelm:
Alexei Stelmuk, a 61-year-old pensioner, arrived in the city of Chelm from eastern Ukraine together with his wife, daughters, and grandchildren (all men between ages 18-60 must stay). A German volunteer met them at the border crossing and brought the family to the Baptist church to receive refuge. Alexei explained, “I ran away because I was fearful for my grandchildren’s lives. They are only six years old, in the first grade now … we knew we had to leave after the Russians bombed our city’s airport and destroyed the runway. Do you see what I am wearing? All I have are some socks, underwear, and shirts – what a normal person takes on a short vacation. Just without the vacation.” The family is hoping to travel on to Turkey, where their eldest daughter works.
More refugee stories to come …
Whoever is kind to the poor lends to the Lord. Proberbs 19:17a
Board Chairman/Founder/Joseph Project