Local professor shares stories of families on the front lines, fleeing Ukraine
BERRIEN COUNTY, Mich., --It’s been over a month since Russia invaded Ukraine. More than 3 million Ukrainian refugees are making new homes across Europe.
While men ages 18-60 have been ordered to stay and fight, Ukrainian women and children were left to flee from their homes to face an uncertain future when they reached the border without their fathers, sons and brothers.
One Berrien County man recently returned from a trip helping refugees get to new homes in Germany. John Boston II, a professor at Andrews University in Berrien Springs. As Russian forces continue their attack on Ukraine’s capital of Kyiv, Boston was about 90 miles away in Siret, Romania, along the Ukrainian Border.
He said he was drawn to help Ukrainian refugees when he saw their displaced, confused and afraid faces on television. As a father of a 10-year-old girl, he could not help but think of his daughter.
“I have a little girl that has to grow up in the world, and I want her to grow up in a world where she knows she can make a difference,” said Boston.
She stayed in his mind while he was abroad, too.
“I couldn’t help but see her in the children,” he continued.
He said that it was difficult for him to sleep when he arrived back to Michigan Wednesday night because he could not forget the Ukrainian children’s faces, unable to settle and be present.
“My favorite moment…the toys and the games that we set up. This little boy, it was the first time he seemed like just a normal child. He just started playing with the cars. To know that we could give him a glimpse of what he deserves—of normal--was my favorite moment," said Boston.
This was not Boston’s first time delivering aid to those in need. He volunteered to help people displaced by war in Syria, an earthquake in Haiti and wildfires in Oregon. However, this refugee crisis was very different in that this impacted people of all economic statuses and walks of life.
“There were educators. There were nurses. There were teachers. There were homemakers, and they were all traveling together. They were all traveling together. This has equalized every Ukrainian.”
He traveled with Child Impact International. The organization bought buses, and volunteers packed these buses with supplies, drove 24 hours to the Ukraine-Romania border to care for Ukrainians upon arrival and drive the 35-hour journey, traversing through mountainous Transylvania Into Germany, where the families will transition into their new lives. He returned to Michigan this week and shares their stories.
When he asked one mother about her experience, she would not share because she did not want to relive what she and her children saw.
“She said I don’t have enough hands to cover my children’s eyes.”
Another mother could not carry belongings because she had to carry her baby as she trekked in freezing temperatures.
“The mother carrying the baby for nine miles had no diapers, so this is the first warm diaper, fresh diaper change that the baby had for a day, he said.
Another mother could not sleep until she knew she and her children were safe.
“I remember one mother...she couldn’t sleep until we got to the edge of Romania which took about 9 hours. She had not slept in nearly 70 hours. It was quite a rewarding thing to know that she felt safe enough now with her little ones to go to sleep,” said Boston.
While not everyone can be there to help, Boston said that there are ways in which we can help from home.
“The women did not understand if the world was watching or not, they’ve been cut off…Whether it’s a donation to an organization like Child Impact International, or showing up on the front line, your prayers, your well wishes, everything matters. Giving attention to what’s happening is a gift for them that they don’t know they have,” said Boston.
Boston worked with Child Impact International that is currently delivering food to the border and offers safe transportation to refugees. The transportation helps mitigate human trafficking by keeping refugees safe as they navigate away from war during a time of extreme vulnerability.
CORRECTION The original broadcast mistakenly referred to Child Impact International as "Children's Impact International."