Hania Timek’s Family Helps Stranded Refugees in Poland Amid Russian Invasion of Ukraine

Junior Hania Timek’s grandma, Janina Ili, has spent the last month in Kraków, Poland welcoming Ukrainian refugees. Ili has been accommodating people fleeing the war in her hostel, Zajazd Kosynier, since late February.

 “I just take it day by day,” Ili said. “I never think what is going to happen tomorrow.” 

Throughout the conversation with Hania, Ili moved from emotional to extremely humble about the generous care she is and has been providing through these times of crisis. 

 On Feb. 24 Russian President Vladimir Putin launched his long-expected invasion of Ukraine. Many world leaders responded with both economic sanctions on Russian trade and support for Ukrainian refugees.

“The US agenda is to not have a sovereign nation have its sovereignty stripped from it,” civics teacher Adam Horos said, regarding why the United States has decided to become involved. 

“We’ve given them rifles, we’ve given them surface to air missiles called Stingers, we’ve given them anti-tank weapons called Javelins,” Horos said.

While the military aspect of the conflict appears most prominent to the average person, charitable organizations and nearby European countries have focused on Humanitarian aid.

Poland has become one of the strongest allies to the Ukrainian community, with households and business owners alike hosting and sustaining refugees. Ili is one of them. 

 “It’s so many refugees right now that we are absolutely jammed, packed up to the brim.  Actually half of the people are children and mothers. Children, mothers with children: ages from one year, a few months up to seventeen or sixteen,” Ili said.

She, along with other Polish citizens has taken on the responsibility of supporting and sustaining, with the help of organizations, many Ukrainian refugees. 

“The kids, when they first come here, are crying and nervous. Because they see the war, they actually see war. They see bombing and, and houses being blown up. Those kids are scared,” Ili said.

Although families and orphans come into an unknown place traumatized by the war, through the donations of organizations and people they are at least welcomed to comfort. 

“There are lots of toys and supplies that good people donated. They come in big trucks and one of our big restaurants in the back is jammed with everything they brought us. That way whoever wants or needs something can always come and use whatever we have,” Ili said.

“We need food, produce baby clothes, adult clothes, diapers, baby food, baby carriages, and to keep rooms clean and warm for the kids. But at least, for the most part, these kids are pretty much happy now,” she added.

Organizations such as UNHCR, the Red Cross, the International Resource Committee, and countless others are providing these resources and more. 

Clubs at East hope to help too, with  Activism  Club and   UNICEF Club brainstorming ways to do their part.  

“Right now we are raising money for the Ukraine crisis, specifically the organization Sunflower of Peace. Their organization focuses on supplying medical and humanitarian supplies to paramedics and doctors in areas of violence,” said Activism Club president Sydney Timmer ’23. 

“UNICEF’s motto is for ‘every child, everywhere.’ We try to raise funds for children around the world that are conflict and disaster-affected. For Ukraine specifically, we ordered a bunch of pins and were going to sell them in the lobby as well as ask people if they are able to donate,”said vice president Caspar Dicke ‘22.  

The work these organizations are doing is essential to the well-being of refugees and to making it more comfortable for hosts. 

“I always think positive, you know tomorrow is another day and it’s going to be better. That’s just the way I think, I’m always the person who thinks everything is pink. However, often I cry here because at my age I have never seen the war, I only remember World War II so much. But to experience it here not in the war but where it is peaceful, to see all those people running for life” Ili took a breath, “Wow.”

As the war in Ukraine drags on, many wonder how things will play out and what the eventual outcome will be for the country, but somehow hope is still found. 

“I don’t know what’s going to happen in the future,” Ili said. “But hopefully it’s peace.”  

Hoekstra said the program was born in 2009 with the intention of teaching students the importance of philanthropy and helping others. 

“Since 2009 we’ve raised almost $800,000 for local charities that we might not even know existed,” she said. “It’s a financial impact for them for whatever they need, or it’s also just the awareness portion for us as a community.” 

An overcrowded sea of gold-filled Memorial Field stands on Friday night. The usual football-game vigor was amplified by the bitter realization that, for some, this would be their last high school game. But through loud chants, waving arms, and explosive support for philanthropy, students truly demonstrated their hearts of gold.

This story was originally published in the March 31 edition of The East Vision.