Words by Smiley Team
A couple who were living in Ukraine when the Russian invasion broke out have raised more than £25,000 to support Ukrainian refugees arriving in Poland.
Chris York, 37, and Yaryna, 31, had been staying in Lviv – in the west side of the country – the week before the war started, but Chris had travelled to Kyiv for work on the morning of the invasion.
“I'd already booked a train ticket to Lviv for that day so, after a morning of explosions, air raid sirens and bunkering down in a metro station, I got the train west in the evening,” Chris tells Smiley News.
“The next day we decided to to leave Ukraine as Yaryna's job in a democracy NGO meant she could be in a lot of danger if Russian forces overran the country.”
Crossing the border into Poland took two days for the couple and involved a 12-mile walk, 24 hours queueing with thousands of other people, freezing temperatures, a crush at the gates into the crossing and no sleep. “It was pretty grim,” says Chris.
They eventually made it to a friend’s house in Warsaw, Poland, and “fell asleep for about 16 hours”. But within 30 minutes of waking up the next day, they’d decided to start a fundraiser.
“After seeing what was happening firsthand, there was no question that we were going to do something, sitting around just reading the news wasn't an option,” says Chris.
They set up a GoFundMe page and, at the time of writing, have raised more than £25,000.
“Most of the money we've spent so far has gone on keeping a couple of refugee aid points in Warsaw stocked up with food, drinks and other supplies,” he says. “The volunteer response in Poland has been absolutely incredible so it's been amazing to be able to work with them and see how they're helping.”
They have also: paid for a bus to evacuate 50 people from Kyiv to Warsaw, sent powerbanks and first aid supplies to Lviv, part-funded a food and information point at a border crossing point, and paid rent for a family of four generations of 10 women and kids who arrived in Warsaw last week.
“We'll carry on doing these things as the money allows, but we're also keeping a close eye on the situation and constantly looking for other ways we can help,” adds Chris.
You can donate to Chris' and Yaryna's GoFundMe page and help them reach their goal of £30,000.