ShelterBox USA President Kerri Murray travels from Santa Barbara to Poland and meets people helping refugees
Julia traveled five days with her 10-year-old son, leaving everything behind in Ukraine.
“The worst part was she was forced to leave her 22-year-old son behind. He had to stay (to fight Russia),” Kerri Murray, president of Santa Barbara-based ShelterBox USA, told the News-Press Wednesday by phone from Krakow, Poland.
Ms. Murray met Julia, whose last name isn’t being published to protect her son still in Ukraine, at the Przemysl train station, which is eight miles from Poland’s border with Ukraine.
“I said to her, ‘What is your biggest need right now?’ ” Ms. Murray recalled. “She said, ‘A place to stay. I also need a shower. I don’t know which one I need first. We have no idea where to go.’
“These families are being ripped apart,” Ms. Murray said. “They don’t know if or when they can go home. They’ve left their family members. They’ve shown up at the train station.
“But what you would think would be a chaotic situation is unbelievably calm, unbelievably coordinated,” Ms. Murray said. “The Polish citizens are all amazing, providing hot meals at the station, providing sim cards, providing rides.”
People with good hearts in Poland are helping Ukranians.
Ms. Murray, a Santa Barbara area resident, saw that firsthand as she encountered volunteers coming to the train station with signs offering rides for refugees: “I can take three women, two children, can take four people.”
“I met this woman who was from France, who drove 20 hours to the train station,” Ms. Murray told the News-Press. “She started talking with a group of women. By the end of the conversation, she was taking four women with her — two to Munich and two of them home to live with her.
“You see this overwhelming outpouring of support,” Ms. Murray said.
She stressed the need for humanitarian aid.
“It’s a heart-breaking crisis,” she said. “It’s the fastest growing refugee crisis in Europe since World War II. People need food, water, shelter, access to medical care.”
“When I showed up (at the train station), there were thousands of people,” Ms. Murray said. “Mostly what I saw were women. There were also so many children and babies. I saw the elderly. I saw the disabled. And I saw pets.
“I saw very few men because men between ages 18 and 60 have to stay behind (to fight Russian troops),” Ms. Murray said.
Ms. Murray is representing ShelterBox USA as the international ShelterBox team works to determine what Ukrainian refugees and those still in Ukraine need. In addition to Ms. Murray, the team includes people from Britain, The Netherlands and Finland.
Ms. Murray said ShelterBox is working to send tools and materials into Ukraine to repair homes. “We have thousands of these pre-positioned in Belgium. We have aid in the region. It takes two days to truck this stuff down.
“We’ll be supplementing this with several other items such as hygiene kits, solar lights and blankets,” Ms. Murray said. “It’s a brutal winter. We’ve been procuring tens of thousands of jackets.”
Ms. Murray and other ShelterBox representatives and volunteers won’t be going into Ukraine, but are relying on brave people with other humanitarian organizations to bring the materials into Ukraine. She said she isn’t identifying who’s helping in order to keep them safe. They’re risking their lives to help Ukranians.
For the refugees leaving Ukraine, ShelterBox is providing them with supplies they can carry — blankets, coats and cash assistance for food, Ms. Murray said. “Many of these people live from week to week. We’re working on a very customized kit.”
Ms. Murray said sending aid to Ukraine isn’t as simple as packing a box of supplies and mailing it.
“It’s critical that we’re on the ground and talk to the refugees and asses their needs and not determine their needs for them,” Ms. Murray said. “They tell you what their needs are.”
The number of refugees continues to grow. The United Nations this week put the number at more than two million.
“Sixty percent have come to Poland — 1.2 million,” Ms. Murray said. “The U.N. is now predicting as many as seven million refugees as the result of this crisis.
“In addition to the (current) two million, there are millions on the move in Ukraine, moving east to west to get away from the war,” she said. “There’s going to be a massive humanitarian need in and around Lviv in Ukraine.”
She noted Ukranians moving into evacuation centers in their country are sleeping on floors and need mattresses and blankets.
At the train station, Ms. Murray saw people wanting to help the Ukranians in various ways.
She said that included handing out flowers.
“As every person got off the train, there was a clergy member, giving every person a tulip.”