Compassion: Kindness to Ukraine, Continued

Season 2, Episode 7

It has now been two years since the beginning of the war in Ukraine, and it is no longer always front page news. But we must not curtail our compassion as the crisis continues. Nikita and Artur, two Ukrainian refugees who escaped to Poland, share their stories with us, to remind us of the ongoing need for kindness—and how the compassion that they received changed their lives. Serve the City Krakow was there at the start to welcome the flood of refugees pouring across their borders, and volunteers continue to reach out to Ukrainians displaced by war. But now Nikita and Artur are two of those helping others!

Nikita shares how his family—including his disabled father—escaped from their home in Kharkiv, after living several months in an underground garage. Artur tells us how he paid a smuggler to stuff him in his car’s trunk in Crimea, and drive him and his family across many border—so he could avoid being conscripted into the Russian army. And Travis Mielonen, City Leader of Serve the City Krakow, recounts the craziness of those first months and the ways the Polish people reacted with astounding compassion to their neighbours. Together, Artur and Nikita describe how the compassion that they received infected them with the desire to help other people.

Listen to the episode here:

Above you can see our three guests from this episode: Artur, at left with his wife Anya and daughter; Nikita, at centre in shorts; and Travis, next to Nikita in the blue shirt. Next to Travis is Magda, whom we interviewed in Episode 2.4 (Respect: No Longer Frozen in Shame). (The remaining guy is a friend from Slovakia.)

Artur and Nikita helping Travis try to pronounce a Ukrainian sound that does not exist in Polish! Ukrainian has two Ls, a hard L and soft L. Can you pronounce the soft L?

Nikita with Julie, his “American mom.” Julie was the one who found an apartment for Nikita and his family when they first arrived (where they still live today). Nikita cited Julie as his example of what compassion looks like—that even though she did not speak the language, she loved the Ukrainian refugees she helped and they could feel it.

Nikita says: “I love this picture, it’s the refugees with Americans who were helping us. It’s just the third day after we moved to our house, and my birthday.” Nikita is at centre in the back, under the 18 balloons. Travis is in the bright blue jacket, and Julie is next to him in light blue.

Nikita and Julie leading games for childran at the refugee centre where he first came when he arrived in Krakow. Nikita said, “If I was one of the 5-year-old kids that survived the war and lived underground, I would love somebody to come to me and play with me.” This volunteering visit was only a few months after Nikita himself left this shelter.

The sleeping situation at the refugee centre where Nikita first came in Krakow. While this is maybe okay for a stopgap, the Serve the City team wanted Ukrainian refugees to be able to live in something more homelike.

The house that Julie found, and that Serve the City rented, to give a temporary home to refugees. The team named it “Hope for the City” in Polish (Nadzieja dla miasta). It has multiple bedrooms and bathrooms, and gathering places to socialize, along with a great yard outfitted with playground equipment.

A room for a family at the Hope for the City house, ready for people to move into. Quite a contrast to the huge refugee centres, some of which were set up in sports arenas…

Artur and Travis with four Ukrainian sisters from Chernihiv. Artur eventually became the house leader, helping all the residents settle in and solving problems. The sisters lived in the House of Hope for a long time, and became like family to everyone.

Nikita playing Saint Nicholas for the children living in the Serve the City house. Artur is at the back in orange, with Julie next to him.

Artur in front of “his” house (with scarf), helping lead a group of Serve the City volunteers running a day camp for children. At rear left you can see Magda and Nikita.

Nikita leading a Serve the City project last October, when Krakow hosted the European Forum for STC. Included in Nikita’s volunteer team are several City Leaders from around Europe, as well as STC founder Carlton Deal (top right)!

Both Artur and Nikita said that it was the compassion that they had received from so many others that inspires them to serve people today.

For our soundtrack for this episode, our music maestro, Parker Deal, composed variations of a Polish folk song called “Hej, sokoly!” (Who knew that Parker also plays mandolin?) The lyrics are the story of a soldier who has left his sweetheart behind in Ukraine, and it expresses how much he misses her and Ukraine. We thought that seemed an appropriate sentiment for an episode about Ukrainian refugees in Poland, who are also missing their beautiful homeland. Below is a link to a sung version of this song with lyrics in English, for your enjoyment.

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