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Ukrainian Aid Project Spearheaded by Raquette Laker

Ukrainian Train Station

Refugees from the war in Ukraine seek shelter at a sports center in Warsaw, Poland, on March 11, 2022. (AP Photo/Czarek Sokolowski)

On 24 February 2022, Russia began a military invasion of Ukraine, in a major escalation of the Russo-Ukrainian conflict that began in 2014. It is the largest military conflict in Europe since World War II.
More than 3.5 million Ukrainians have fled the country since the Feb. 24 invasion, including about 2.2 million to Poland, according to the United Nations.

Rebecca Pohl is a high school counselor at the American School of Warsaw, Poland. Rebecca grew up in Raquette Lake in the Adirondacks of Upstate NY. Rebecca never shies away from hard work or facing a challenge. Her penchant for adventure has taken her all over the globe traveling, teaching, learning, and helping others.
Growing up in Raquette Lake, Rebecca worked on the W.W. Durant cruise-n-dine boat with her parents, Dean and Donna Pohl, and her brothers and sister where she learned about hard work, generosity of spirit, and the value of community.

“Growing up in the Adirondacks showed me how important community is, and that’s something I’ve taken with me in all my travels. I remember one of my classmates in elementary school lost his home in a fire; his family survived but lost everything, and the community pulled together to help them. Now 2.5 million people have fled Ukraine and crossed into Poland. Most have arrived with only a small backpack or duffel bag, and they likely have nothing to go back to when this is all over. There is no question that we have to help them.”   

Rebecca graduated from University of Rochester with a Bachelors in History and minor in Ethics. After graduating from college, Rebecca worked in the hospitality industry and eventually enrolled at the UNC Charlotte for a Master’s of Arts in Teaching English as a Second Language. 
Rebecca lived and taught in Mexico from 2010 to 2014 where she worked as a high school English teacher and college counselor. In 2014 Rebecca started working in China which allowed her to finance her graduate certificate in School Administration and Teacher Supervision from Johns Hopkins University. 
In 2016 Rebecca moved to Zambia as a school counselor. While in Zambia she enrolled in a Master of Science in Children and Young People’s Mental Health Counseling and Psychological Practice at the University of Edinburgh (Scotland), and she expects to graduate next year. Rebecca moved to Poland in 2019 and where she is currently living and working as a school counselor for the American School of Warsaw.  

Apartment Living. Photo by Rebecca Pohl

When Russia attacked Ukraine on February 24, 2022, Rebecca opened up her home to Ukrainian refugees and what started out as a personal Facebook post about hosting and promoting the fundraising efforts of the American School in Warsaw to help displaced Ukraninans, morphed into a gigantic volunteer effort and personal journey for Rebecca.  
Rebecca’s friends, many living stateside, were seeking ways to help devastated Ukrainians fleeing their county in record numbers. Rebecca spearheaded an effort along with the assistance of her mom, Donna Pohl, and sister, Rachel Pohl. Donna and Rachel offered to collect donations and then get them to Rebecca. Rebecca put her boots on the ground to collaborate with colleagues and friends to ensure that donations make into the hands of those that need it immediately. 

Rebecca gave new arrivals a place to stay allowing them much needed breathing room before moving on to find their next place to live. Rebecca has enlisted the help of friends and colleagues to work and shop with her to purchase goods and transport them and distribute items to Ukrainians arriving daily at the train station. She says, “Everyone I know is helping, and nearly everyone is hosting.  The generosity and care here is incredible.”  She’s even enlisted the help of a 5th grade class to help build hygiene packs bound for the border. 

Here are some highlights from Rebecca’s personal Facebook page: 

Links to Rebecca’s page and complete posts and ways to donate are provided in the links below.  
Things to Know
The Polish złoty (PLN) is the official currency of Poland, issued by the National Bank of Poland. 
Makro – Makro is an international brand of warehouse clubs, also called Cash and Carries. 
Biedronka is a chain of supermarkets. It is the largest chain of discount shops in Poland.
Centrum is a neighborhood in Warsaw and home to the Central Train Station.

In her own words 

March 7 at 6:51 PM
Mother Iryna and daughter Oksana have arrived! Oksana, age 11, speaks some English. Rambo is being nice to them, showing some love, and it nearly brought Iryna to tears. It is good to have a dog around. I gave Iryna and Oksana my bedroom; Rambo and I are sleeping in the spare bedroom. And he has informed me that he will not be sleeping on his dog bed and instead will be sleeping next to me. Have tried a few times. He’s refusing to budge.

March 10 at 12:53 PM  · 
Iryna and Oksana have arrived safely in Zgorzelec (a Polish town on the German border) and are now with Iryna’s cousin. 
I am blown away by the team effort that has materialized out of nowhere, with random people chipping in with what they can. Yesterday I returned home with a surprise for Oksana – her first Harry Potter book in English (her favorite – the one about Sirius Black) and some art supplies, all donated by parents from my school who replied to my post in the parent Facebook group. I had one very happy little girl on my hands! And perhaps an even happier mama. 
I also managed to convince them to accept 1000 PLN (about $230). Iryna was adamant that she couldn’t accept any money, that I had helped so much already, but I pointed out that the money was from my friends in the US (therefore, not my money!)
I also sent them off with an N95 mask each. Iryna’s eyes lit up when I asked if they needed them. Gotta stay safe, especially in this crisis! There are a LOT of people crowded into small areas.

March 11 at 3:59 PM  · 
Tonight my friend and colleague Teo and I went down to the central station to register my extra room and see if we could bring a family or couple home with me. There were a lot of people in lines, and some camped out, seemingly with nowhere to go. It was not uncommon to see people carrying their things in canvas shopping bags. There were lots of volunteers, with their languages listed on a sheet stapled to their fluorescent vests, and also people passing out free food. I even saw one woman handing out dog treats to those with puppers. 
The registration process was pretty simple, with a volunteer typing my information into a spreadsheet. They said they’d call me. 
That’s when I got a message from Galina, the woman who brought Iryna and Oksana to my house on Monday. She is looking for a room for a mother (50-ish) and daughter (25-ish) and they will come tomorrow and stay for an unknown period of time. So it looks like Rambo and I get one more night to ourselves. 

The first woman who we gave money to. I’m in the red scarf, and the Polish/English speaking volunteer has the long hair, and the woman on my other side is the Polish/Ukrainian speaking volunteer. This mother of two boys was very grateful.

March 12 at 5:07 PM  · 
This morning I got a message from my friend and colleague Kevin, asking how I was distributing the funds I was receiving from my friends and family at home. So we decided to make a trip to the central train station to donate items and pass cash to families we identified as particularly vulnerable. 
I learned last night from the volunteers at the train station that they really needed deodorant and Chapstick among other things, so I picked up 632 PLN ($146) worth of deodorant and Chapstick to bring down to the train station. Kevin brought a load of cat food. When we got there, we milled about a bit, trying to find out where to drop off the stuff first. 
A kind volunteer helped, directing me to the hygiene tent and taking Kevin with her to the place where pet food was stored. Near the hygiene tent, there were also tents for food (both packaged/wrapped, and one tent where people could get a hot meal), clothes, and medical supplies. There is an army of volunteers who man these tents at all hours of the day, and the needs are endless.
Once we had unloaded those donations, we looked around for a multilingual volunteer who might be able to help us approach families. We found one volunteer, maybe 17, who was bilingual Polish/English, and then she found another volunteer who was bilingual Polish/Ukrainian. So with their help, (English to Polish to Ukrainian, and then Ukrainian to Polish to English) we managed to hand out envelopes to families, mostly single mothers with multiple young children, with each family receiving 500-1000 PLN ($115-230 USD), depending on family size. 
Some declined our offers, saying that there were others who needed it more; others accepted, and sometimes there were tears and hugs, and some wanted to take photos with us. Others accepted but were hesitant and silent, with eyes cast to the floor, and we felt it best just to give them the envelopes and move on. 
In total, I handed out 5000 PLN (about $1150 USD), and Kevin handed out 4000 PLN (about $1000 USD). Considering the average monthly wage in Ukraine is less than $500 USD per month, this money represented a small fortune for these people. For comparison, the average monthly wage in Poland is $1370 USD per month. 

March 13 at 1:49 PM  · 
Mom Natasha (age 53) and daughter Masha (age 25) have moved in! 
They came with me on Rambo’s walk in the forest this afternoon, and Rambo was eagerly available to assist while they made dinner. The fabulous parents at my school have signed up to provide dinners for us, so I’ll be bringing home dinner every night after school, but Natasha and Masha cooked tonight. Plain pasta, hot dogs, tomato, and white bread. I can’t say it was my favorite meal, but the company was good. 
Thank god for Google Translate! And actually, Google Translate is better than I realized. There is a conversation option that picks up your spoken language, translates it, and then plays the translation. Sometimes it doesn’t make sense, but it’s pretty good if you use direct, clear sentences. 
Natasha works as a purchaser in a construction company. Right now they are building a coal mine, though of course construction has halted. But she can do her job remotely, which is why I moved my desk into her room. Masha is a manager in a clothing store. They both live in Kyiv now, though they are from Donetsk, but were displaced from there as well due to war eight years ago. (Look up the war in Donbas for more info – it was part of this same Ukrainian-Russian conflict, which has been on-going for years.) 

These ladies can’t catch a break!

March 16 at 5:41 PM  · 
Tomorrow I’ll be making a trip to the train station to deliver essential hygiene products. It hasn’t been easy finding vendors selling the quantities that I’m looking for, and my first order of deodorant was cancelled, so I had to find another vendor and place another order.
After unloading tomorrow, I’ll be meeting with Jarmiła, a well-known activist who is spearheading the efforts down at the train station. 
Jarmiła has requested HUGE quantities of bottled water (10,000 bottles), juice boxes with straw (3,000), chocolate/waffle bars (5,000), and so on. You can drink the water from the tap here, but there are no water fountains in the train station, so they need bottled water. 
This invasion and the resulting refugee crisis has created a rubbish crisis as well. The quantities of garbage are astounding as so many items are single use or tiny (100ml or 3 oz.). 

March 18 at 5:44 AM 
Yesterday after school Kevin and I loaded up my car with apple juice, tampons, diapers, baby wipes, lotion, toothbrushes, and toothpaste. It all fit, with Kevin holding a few diapers on his lap. When we arrived in Centrum, my contact Paulina guided me to the unloading zone so that we could unload directly at the tents. They were very appreciative. 
They were really short on food, so Kevin and I made a run to Makro, which is a Costco-type store that requires a membership. We loaded up two carts of the items they requested – individually wrapped things like granola bars, juices, croissants, etc, plus apples and clementines. 
There are 1000 Ukrainian students enrolling in Polish schools every day, and they all need school supplies. We’ve received requests for backpacks and school supplies, so I’m in the process of loading 100 backpacks with a supply pack including pencils, pens, sharpener, small calculator, protractor and ruler, colored pencils or crayons, highlighters, a pencil case, and a notebook. It’s going to be a lot of work to put each backpack together, but I know Rambo will keep me on task.

One of the army of volunteers at the train station

One of the army of volunteers at the train station

March 22 at 4:09 AM  · 
Another massive grocery run to Makro last night, and this time I brought my friend and colleague Maggie so that we could fill two cars. And fill we did! We ended up with six carts full of juice boxes, wafer bars, animal crackers, 7-Day croissants, apples, mandarins, and bananas. 
It was too hard to drive two carts at once, so this involved three fills and three trips to the register with each of us driving a cart. 
Trip 1 – 1208.44 PLN ($305.05 USD), Trip 2 – 1900.71 PLN ($452.82 USD), and Trip 3 – 620.69 PLN ($147.87 USD, for a total of $905.74 USD. That’s a lot of juice boxes and snacks!
Another interesting fact – the young woman who checked us out at the register on our second transaction said that she had spent Friday (her day off) at a warehouse where she was making bulletproof vests. 
Multiple volunteers came up to say thank you for our massive delivery. While they are getting donations regularly, it’s not always what they need. For example, there are people bringing canned goods like beans. I am sure their heart is in the right place, but how are refugees supposed to cook and eat beans when they are sleeping on the floor in the train station? It felt really good to rock up with EXACTLY what was needed.

Backpack Project

March 25 at 8:38 AM  
100 backpacks packed, each with 1 notebook, 1 geometry set, 1 calculator, 1 package of pencils (12), 1 package of colored pencils or crayons, and 1 pencil case (with 5 blue pens, 4 highlighters each a different color, and a pencil sharpener). We had an assembly line and got through this in about an hour. We found, however, that we needed more boxes since the filled backpacks took up more space than when empty, so this necessitated a trip to my building’s garbage room where I fished some boxes out of the dumpster. So 100 backpacks filled with school supplies and ready for Ukrainian students who have enrolled in Polish public schools. 

March 27 
Another big run to Makro yesterday (Saturday), this time with my dear friend and colleague Joan. We loaded both of our cars with all the usual stuff – juice boxes, wafer bars, granola bars, crackers, apples, and bananas. There was not a single 7-Day Croissant in all of Makro! Hopefully that means people are buying them up and bringing them to various refugee in-take sites. 
After delivering that first load, I decided to make one more run to Makro since it’s close to the center, and I live about 45 minutes away, so it made sense to do an extra run while I was in that area. On that second trip, I bought out all of the yogurt drinks on the shelf and more apples, and then loaded up on some sort of muffin for children and animal crackers, again buying out the entire shelf. 
I’m still blown away by how quickly the supplies go down at the train station. Refugees arrive daily, and they are scared, tired, and cold. Luckily the weather is improving, and it hasn’t been rainy at all. I can only imagine how much worse it would be for them if every time they went to the food tent, they also got wet and then had nowhere to dry. And then the floors would be wet, too, making everything that much more uncomfortable.

March 30, 2022
I’ve got the trips to Makro down to a science. Yesterday my friend and colleague Jonica joined me, so we were able to bring a LOT of stuff to the train station between my car and her Big Mama vehicle: apples, bananas, juice boxes, drinkable yogurts, animal crackers and goldfish, children’s muffins, chocolate bars…this was 6 full carts, and we were full to the brim. 
When we arrived, the volunteers recruited some of the military guys to help unload. (After first loading the cart, and then loading from the cart to the car, I simply don’t want to help unload at the train station, too.) They had a good stock of supplies, but their donations continue to be inconsistent, so it’s good that we went yesterday. That said, we cleaned Makro out and took all the items that would be useful. 
The trains are still arriving daily, and they’re full of hungry, scared people and our supplies turn into their breakfast and lunches, or snacks to go. The trains have slowed somewhat, but they are still coming. It’s unclear how this situation will be resolved. Additionally, the refugees who were previously sleeping on mattresses and mats on the floor in the train station are no longer there. No one seems to know where they have gone, but I hope this means that they have warm beds to sleep in. There are many, many initiatives running. There is hope and so many helpful people donating their time and energy.
Six carts in three trips through the register: 788.79 PLN ($185.35 USD), 2,507.58 PLN ($589.24 USD), and 1,819.23 PLN ($427.49 USD), totaling $1,202.08 USD.
And Teo, whom you met in a previous post, is making another border run this weekend. We have funded both trips (petrol, supplies, and groceries) in which he and another colleague who also speaks Russian have worked at the border, directly helping refugees get onto the path to their next stop. They also bring refugees back with them to Warsaw in the car since they go full of supplies and return with available seats. This has been a total of 1,672.71 PLN or $392.65 USD.

April 5, 2022
The needs are changing. I spoke with Paulina last night, and the medic team is in desperate need of some specialized equipment. While there are many donors who drop off small or even large quantities of juice boxes, snacks, and hygiene products, there are few with enough funds available to cover large purchases like an emergency stretcher and AED. I feel very fortunate to be in the position to provide these things. They should arrive today and tomorrow, and if they won’t fit in my car, Paulina will send a vehicle to pick them up

As of April 5, funds raised: $35,055.96.  As of April 5, funds distributed: $23,260.26

From 232 separate donations between $20 and $1000.  Some people have also donated more than once.
Want to get involved? Want to help me/us help others? Here’s how to contribute:

Donate to the ASW Foundation, which I can 100% vouch for:

If you’d like to send money to me for me to distribute directly to Ukrainians and use toward efforts that I learn about here, on the ground, there are a couple of options:

Send money to my sister via Venmo: Rachel-Pohl-6 (confirmation code 5253)
Send money to my mom via PayPal:
Send a check (US dollars only) to: Donna Pohl, PO Box 100, Raquette Lake 13436
Many thanks to my sister Rachel and my mom Donna who are receiving money via deposit, check, PayPal, Venmo, and carrier pigeon, and then transferring it to me. 
I had no idea that my post would trigger such an outpouring of support. On Day 1 I realized we needed a spreadsheet to keep track of who donated what and where the money was going. 
There are huge needs here, and I feel a tremendous responsibility to make sure the money gets to those who need it. I’m humbled by everyone’s faith and trust in me. Thank you!

Written by Alexandra Roalsvig, Posted April 5, 2022. 


Rebecca Pohl, 2022, Facebook accessed March 27, April 5 2022

2022, Wikipedia, accessed March 27, 2022  

Chris Megerian and Darlene Superville,
“60 miles from Ukraine, Biden sees refugee crisis in Poland,” 2022, AP News, accessed March 27, 2022
  accessed 3.27

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