Edmonton-area friends head to Ukrainian border to help refugees

A group of five Edmonton-area brothers and lifelong friends are preparing to make a trip they never expected: to the Ukrainian border to act as refugee transporters.

The group is calling themselves YEG4Ukraine. They’re five Ukrainian-speaking dads whose families have strong ties to the war-torn country.

“You see what’s happening there,” explained Daniel Warenycia-Sousa. “I’m glued to it 24/7 and I just can’t sit around and do nothing anymore.”

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So the men decided to act. They booked flights to Poland, leaving on March 31.

The goal upon arrival is simple.

“Just to help out any way we can. Get people to where they need to get to, get supplies into that country,” Daniel said.

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Packing up donated medical supplies for transport to the Ukrainian border. Sarah Ryan / Global News

YEG4Ukraine will bring much-needed medical supplies, including a dozen full suitcases from groups like Not Just Tourists in Calgary.

Using money donated through GoFundMe for their cause, the men also purchased 500 tactical first aid kits which they’ll bring east and deliver to first responders at the border.

“We are very familiar with the territory there and are also able to speak both languages, which is very important now,” explained Nestor Turczyk.

READ MORE: Edmonton area woman recounts mother’s harrowing escape from war-torn Ukraine

Daniel’s younger brother, James Warenycia-Sousa, said he hopes speaking Ukrainian with the refugees will provide some relief.

“Establishing that human relationship with somebody, getting them comfortable, letting them know they’re ok, they’re safe,” James said.

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Tim Warenycia-Sousa will also join them, along with a friend flying out of Halifax, bringing the contingent to six.

Suitcases full of medical supplies for Ukrainian refugees. Sarah Ryan / Global News

When the group lands they’ll pick up three vehicles and fill them with their donations, and head to the border town of Przemysl.

There, they’ll pick up refugees in need of transportation west, delivering them to smaller towns or rural areas not serviced by trains or buses as readily.

Then they’ll repeat the process, bringing more essential goods east and refugees west.

Click to play video: 'Canadians answer the call for on-the-ground aid in Ukraine' Canadians answer the call for on-the-ground aid in Ukraine

Canadians answer the call for on-the-ground aid in Ukraine

Each of the men have families of their own to say goodbye to at the airport.

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“They’ve been very supportive. They know these people need help. It hits very close to home. They’re more proud of us than anything,” Nestor explained.

For their families, this war is personal.

“My parents and I emigrated — I guess escaped the Soviet Union — in the early 80’s. It was a troubling and risky time,” said Nestor’s brother Pawel Turczyk.

READ MORE: Edmonton man heading overseas to help his family fleeing Ukraine war

They want the refugees to know they’re not alone and there is hope.

“Putin’s idea of dividing up Ukraine ended up uniting Ukraine with the rest of the world, and uniting Ukrainians and non-Ukrainians across the world,” Daniel said.

“We are living proof of people who had a chance to live free.”

“Our grandparents ran away from the war, the Turczyks ran away from the Soviets and so if we are able to give others a shot at that — that’s something really important to us.”

The men plan to stay in Poland for between two and three weeks.

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