"The Kindness of Strangers; Babushka Luba's Journey to Family in Maryland"
Updated: Apr 12, 2022
Team member Jacquie Colgan recevied this Facebook message from Luba's daughter-in-law who wanted the world to know how an act of compasion, and a chance meeting with strangers, changed the course of her whole family's life.
"The last couple of days have been so great having Babushka here with us. I wanted to share a little about her journey getting here and the luck (fate? miracle?) she had in Warsaw.
She left her hometown on Friday on an evacuation train and traveled for almost a day to Lviv, Ukraine. From there she was able to catch a bus to the border in Poland, and though she had to wait in the rain for 7 hours, crossed the border without major incident. From there she made a 5 hour bus trip to Warsaw (with a valid US non-immigrant visa in hand) where she hoped to get a flight to the US. However, there was some Covid-related paperwork that she needed in order to fly and I had been contacting the CDC, Department of State, Homeland Security/CBP, the US Embassy in Poland, and LOT Airlines, all with minimal progress. We had no idea how long it would take to coordinate things from here. How long she would need to stay in Poland or whether we would need to fly to Poland to facilitate her trip.
Enter Jacquie Colgan, her travel partner Julia, and Nantucket Cares. Yevgen's mom (Luba) found them at the Warsaw train station volunteering and helping Ukrainian refugees, just as they were preparing to return to their hotel and fly back to the US. So, they took her along, and we got a call around 5:30 am on Sunday that she was headed to the airport with a couple of women who were going to do their best to help her... and then confirmation a few hours later that she was on board a direct flight to the US with her new best friends. They had helped her get her covid test, bought her a ticket, and acted as the US citizen escort she needed in lieu of the elusive paperwork.
Jacquie and Julia were the "boots on the ground" we couldn't be, and extended more kindness than we could hope for. They helped Babushka navigate entry into the US and the airport and into our waiting arms. When I spoke with Jacquie at the airport as to how we could thank her or repay her, she only asked that we consider donating to her group, Nantucket Cares. They are private Nantucket citizens who felt like they HAD to do something to help, and have brought supplies and money to Poland to help Ukrainians crossing the border to get the assistance they need to find a place to live, or meet up with loved ones.
If you have wanted to help Ukrainians and have the means, please consider joining me in donating to the Nantucket Cares GoFundMe. If you have any questions about this organization, please let me know and I will do my best to provide what information I can.
Now here is how it went down from those "boots on the ground." Jacquie tells the story of how she and Julia met Luba.
"So...just to explain our Ukrainian refugee stowaway, Luba. After working at the Warsaw train station Saturday afternoon, Tom, Julia, and I decided we could squeeze in another 2-hour shift before our departure. Literally 15 minutes before we had to leave, I met Luba. Unable to understand her, I escorted her over to our top-notch translator, Julia. Luba had been travelling from her home in Kharkiv (where her husband stayed behind to tend to their windows blown out by bombs). Following a 24-hour train ride to Lviv, a bus ride to the border, a 7-hour wait in line to cross (with no food, water, toilet... and in rain), arriving in Przyemysl, she arrived by bus to Warsaw.
She explained to Julia that she wanted to get to the USA, where she has a son in Maryland. She said she had a visa, but was concerned that she wouldn't be permitted to enter because she never received Covid vaccinations. As we were minutes from leaving, we told her we would take her to the airport and help her there. She accompanied us to our hotel, where we gathered our luggage and got a taxi. While in the taxi, I phoned her son in the US (woke him up at 5:30 am) to tell him that we had his mother in a taxi and were taking her to the airport (imagine hearing that from an overseas stranger!). Upon arrival, we went to the LOT airline ticket counter and were told that she would just need a Covid test for departure (we figured if vaccination status was an issue here, we'd just deal with that upon arrival). They also said that she would need to be travelling with someone with a US passport (God knows what sense this makes!!). So, we bought her a ticket and got our tests.
At the Warsaw airport, Luba changed into new shoes, removing those she had been wearing, with her feet wrapped in some type of mylar to keep warm. She had little papers with key phrases in Ukrainian on one side and English on the other.
Julia let her son know our flight information so he could make the 4-hour drive to Newark to pick his mom up. We boarded the plane and were off for the USA! Julia and I were privileged to accompany her on the final leg of her journey and to reunite her with her son, daughter-in-law, and grandchildren.
Luba's positive spirit was incredible! She commented on how kind everybody had been to her throughout her journey. She told us the story of how she had been hospitalized at 4-month's old. At the same time, there was another mother with a baby boy at the hospital (he was the fifth child born to his mother, but the other 4 children had died in infancy. His mother obviously feared the same outcome with him. Luba's mother nursed the little boy in the hospital and he ended up surviving. Throughout her life, Luba's mother taught her to always help everybody and never say 'no.' The more 'thank you's' you get in life, the longer you will live."