June 9th, 2023 – Day two of my trip, I was so tired that I spent 15 minutes thinking I was locked IN my apartment share because I was pushing a pull door. I was JUST about to call the apartment owner when I figured it out. Thank goodness. The language barrier is terrible enough without her thinking I’m just plain dense. So don’t expect this written account to be anything one would write home about.
Still, making my way from Krakow (Crack-of for the pronunciation police) to Przemyśl almost a year after our filming here was moving. Leaving Krakow by train was NOT easy. I got yelled at twice at the Krakow train station, once by the ticket agent and another by the security guard. They were angry I spoke English and didn’t know where I was going. I suppose. Touristy places always have a resentful local or two, and I get it; I’m the same way in NYC. Still, I don’t yell at people who ask me a question. I wonder if they realize how much their salary depends on travelers like me.
But Valentina came in to save the day. Valentina (Pictured with me) is 1/2 Polish and 1/2 Italian. She was traveling to visit her grandparents for the summer, something she’s done summer after summer for many years. She also spoke good English, helped translate for me, and ensured I got on the correct train because the information was sparse. We were in the same car coincidentally, so I paid her back by helping her with the luggage.
But boarding the train at Krakow was the biggest disorganized circus I have EVERY seen. And so unnecessary too! Everyone has an assigned seat; what’s with the stupid chaos? Is this a roller derby match or an MMA event?
I have a nice shin injury from a roller suitcase slamming me during the scrum. People filed onto our car from both ends, meeting in the middle in a too-narrow aisle that would not allow either to pass the other with luggage. We were at a standstill for a good five to ten minutes with no one willing to back down before I jumped in, in English, and began ordering people around. They listened to me?! and thanked me! I couldn’t believe it. Then they asked ME where to get off for THEIR stop, and I was like, “Whoa, that’s enough now… this is my first time taking a train from Krakow to Przmesyl. And maybe my last.
Also on the train were two very sweet Ukrainian refugee women (sisters or maybe a YOUNG grandmother and daughter) with a young baby in tow. Unlike the Polish ticket agent and Security Guard, they were exceedingly helpful in getting me on the right train. They said they were worried they had “lost me” when they saw me on board afterward.
So by the time the train was halfway to Przemyśl, I felt I knew 1/2 the car, though hardly anyone spoke English, and just an hour earlier, I knew NO ONE. That’s travel. That’s why I love it.
The World Central Kitchen Volunteers are gone at the Przemyśl train station. In fact, I didn’t see a single volunteer of ANY organization welcome the exhausted and on-edge refugees who were on the train from Krakow and, like me, heading back to Ukraine. There is a war still going on, you know? In fact, it’s worse than before in my observations thus far. People are STRESSED to the limit.
Elderly women and ladies with tired children dragging their massive suitcases up and down flights of stairs disheartened me. I saw two disturbing bouts of distress, one from an elderly lady upset about something with her, I assume, adult daughter… and another young girl, 8 or 9, I’d say, also scarily upset and causing a scene and evidently super stressed with her family about something. The psychological toll of this horror show has yet to be played out, but I saw a sneak preview today, and it was NOT good.
I missed Anastasia’s language skills several times today, not just on getting from Point A to Point B but also on more practical matters. I had to buy dental floss at the Pharmacy and test my charade skills. Deodorant was fun too. Thankfully…. all stocked up on toilet paper, but I’ve got the perfect charade move ready to go should I need to get some.
Walking to the San River, I met a colorful “anti-war” protestor on the bridge. Unfortunately, I couldn’t understand precisely how the war might be ended (since Russia is 100% in charge of that situation) as his English was minor and my Polish was nil. Not suitable for such a complex subject.
If Mr. Ant-War Protester has any good ideas on how to end this madness and ensure that this NEVER happens again (we know that won’t happen if Putin wins), I’m all ears because witnessing people mentally breaking down is not fun to watch; not to mention the physical toll I’m ABOUT to see first-hand.
Still reminiscing in Przemyśl (Shey-mish for the pronunciation police) has been fulfilling. I wish I could stay longer, but I hope to see it again on the return trip in a few weeks.
Tomorrow, I’m off to cross the border back to L’viv for a few days before continuing into Kyiv. Nervous and excited, of course. I have some plans. It will be very different this trip. More on that later.
Sorry for the stream of consciousness, but I don’t have time to write correctly. I have more push doors to try to pull open.
I’m including below the latest update from Joseph there, who is planning a trip back to the USA to gather medical supplies, etc. to take back. I hope to catch up with him in person or by zoom. My trip to Ukraine has been delayed a bit until early June, but it’s still on.
Thank you for all your support once again!
Here’s the latest update from Joseph at Care4Ukraine / Keeps Kids Learning.
As you might know, the areas we are starting these “pop-up” classrooms are located in the western region of Ukraine. Not only have IDP’s relocated from where the intense fighting is concentrated to cities like Lviv, Ternopil, and Uhzgorod, but also to the smaller villages. Recent attacks in the west have knocked out power in many places and our sister-site on GoFundMe – “Care4Ukraine” is beginning to address needs of IDP’s in these areas. Many refugees are returning to Ukraine as the war drags on. Issues like the higher cost of living and separation from family takes it toll, and the choice to return begins to look better than being a refugee in a foreign country. It is now estimated that there are eight million IDPs in Ukraine, economic output is down more than 50%, and the conflict is growing more intense each day.
Thank you for your help. Joseph
UPDATE May 2nd, 2022 –
ROB INTERVIEWS JOSEPH NICHOLS OF “KEEP THE KIDS LEARNING” FROM UKRAINE – Rob caught up with Joseph via zoom, while Joseph was making a quick trip to Chicago to pick up some medical supplies to take back to Ukraine.
An Important Message from Raw Travel Videographer Anastasia Zui
UPDATED November 20th, 2022
Nov. 20th, 2022 – We recently met up with Joseph of Care4Ukraine.org in Kansas City as he was loading up on supplies to try to help Ukrainians through what will be a brutal winter. In addition to medical supplies, Joseph picked up solar-powered generators and water filtration kits. This is much needed with Putin targeting Ukraine’s power grid and Ukrainian winters so brutally cold.
Joseph in Kansas City with a portable, foldable solar panel for generators.
2. Donate to our Go Fund Me page HERE – All proceeds go to our friends at Care4Ukraine.org who are helping refugee children stay in school and getting medical supplies to the front lines.
3. Donate directly to Keep the Kids Learning & Care4Ukraine.orgHERE – and read more bout their mission at Care4Ukraine.org
4. Read about our unique connection to Ukraine and our efforts to help our friends below. Please tell your friends.
5. Watch – Our trailers from “Visiting Ukraine in Wartime” and “Steadfast in Ukraine,” the first episode in our series of episodes filmed in Ukraine last summer. Please share and help us spread the word.
Practical and responsible ways to help Ukraine
Joseph discusses the work of Care4Ukraine.org and Keep the Kids Learning
Raw Travel 10-05 “Steadfast in Ukraine” re-airs January 28th and 29th, 2022
Visiting Poland and Ukraine during wartime. Please enjoy and share.
6. Follow Raw Travel and Care4Ukraine.org on social media @RawTraveltv and learn about Ukraine and other ways you can help. Such as offering moral support to the people in Ukraine, fighting disinformation and Russian propaganda, learning about the history of Ukraine’s relationship with Russia, and more.
Rob with BMW (call sign), a Ukrainian soldier recently injured on the front line (missing three fingers on his right hand) and heading back to the front. Rob & BMW remain in touch.
RAW TRAVEL HELPS ANASTASIA BUY A TRUCK FOR THE TROOPS – Posted October 15, 2022
I am very excited that Raw Travel was able to help our videographer Anastasia help her father’s platoon obtain a truck to continue Ukraine’s victory against Russian Occupiers & Terrorists. And I’ll also say a big thank you to everyone who has donated at RawTravelGiveBack.com to help us on our humanitarian mission of educating refugees at “Keep the Kids Learning” and donating medical equipment to “Care4Ukraine“
The new truck we were able to help Anastasia obtain to help her father’s troop.
READ ABOUT MY TRIP TO UKRAINE IN WARTIME – Posted July 3rd, 2022 – I’ve just returned from filming in Przemyśl, Poland & Lviv, Ukraine. It was an intense shoot full of mixed emotions. We met many volunteers on both sides of the border, committed to helping Ukrainian refugees, including many Americans from places like Massachusetts, Georgia, Wisconsin, Michigan, California, DC, and more. We witnessed firsthand the great work organizations like World Central Kitchen, Unicef, and The Red Cross are doing.
I also witnessed first-hand the fear and trauma Ukrainians must go through daily as air-raid sirens forced us into bomb shelters at various times, day or night.
We met a particularly inspiring soldier, BMW (nickname), fresh from the front, who was recently injured and thankful for American support. He was on injury leave. He’d recently had three fingers blown off by a missile attack near the front.
He assured me that he felt his American donated flak jacket saved his and many fellow soldiers’ lives. His wife and children were with him. Their gratitude and his bravery were palpable. He was heading back to the front the following week.
This brave Ukrainian soldier (BMW) was recently injured but heading back to the front.
I met several refugees. One recent arrival was a young man of 17, on his own for the first time in his life and seemingly unmoored. The rest of his family remained behind in the fighting. I think our visit cheered him a bit.
I met another from Russian-occupied Maritopal who had recently escaped (bribed his way out).
Still, since his family remained behind, he couldn’t be on camera for fear of retribution. The stories he relayed to us off-camera (but with audio rolling were horrific).
Thanks to reconnecting with our friend Diana Borysenko of Diana Western Ukraine Tours (Season 7’s “Lovely Lviv”), we were able to revisit the Saints Peter & Paul Church where local soldiers’ funeral services are held.
Unlike in 2019, there are many more photos on the Memorials to accommodate the 200-300 soldiers perishing daily (reportedly at the time of our visit) and their tragically orphaned children.
This is the moment in the trip when officially my heart began to break.
Memorial of Orphaned Children from the War at Saints Peter and Paul Church
Diana then drove us to the famous National Lychakiv Cemetery in Lviv, where they’ve recently had to add a massive Mars Field to accommodate all the freshly dead Ukrainian soldiers.
This part of the day was perhaps the most challenging of the entire shoot.
We witnessed grieving mothers, daughters, wives, girlfriends, sisters, and brothers at freshly dug graves. Tough.
Lychakiv Cemetery’s Mars Field
But there were good times too. Many. I was both surprised and inspired by the number of people committed to living life with as much Joy de Vivre as possible under such conditions and in between the occasional air-raid sirens.
In the end, we saw a country and people committed to pulling together for victory. It wasn’t all grief, fear, and sadness all the time. Ukrainians in Lviv seemed committed to showcasing some sense of normalcy. There were street performances daily, with joyful people dancing, clapping, and singing.
The line to cross back into Poland via car was days long, and the train tracks had been bombed so it was running behind as well. I had been told an on-foot crossing would be the fastest. I caught a ride from Lviv to the border with Poland with two friends of a friend back in NYC, who wouldn’t take a dime for even gas
I returned across the border on foot with thousands of Ukrainian refugee mothers and children escaping the war. We stood in line for 3.5 hours trying to get out of Ukraine.
Fortunately for me, as a US Passport holder, I could get into Poland much more quickly (in a matter of 20 minutes or so). Still, the poor Ukrainians had to stand out in the brutally hot, unprotected, blazing sun for God knows how much longer to get into Poland. Why there was no tent in the “no man’s land” section after leaving Ukraine to get into Poland is anybody’s guess but it was inhumane on this brutally hot day. I hope this has been fixed.
On the Polish side of the border, I caught a free ride to town with a kind Polish volunteer from Warsaw. He was working on his day off to help people like me and gave me a free ride into town to catch my bus from Przemysl. I took a relaxing bus back to Krakow to catch my flight home the next day (where Austrian Airlines promptly lost my luggage for almost a week).
Crossing the border on foot from Ukraine into Poland.
Having caught covid in Paris and possibly breaking a toe or two (long- story and non-war related), I felt every bit of my age on this trip. Because I caught covid in Paris, I had to isolate and delay my trip to Ukraine by over a week. I was disappointed I couldn’t go deeper and stay longer as originally intended.
Still, I would not trade the experience for anything. Up until the last minute, I was trying my best to figure out how to extend the trip to get to Kyiv as initially planned. But alas, overland travel in Ukraine is slow and unpredictable. I had to be back in NYC to attend to business.
Anastasia is filming street musicians in Lviv as soldiers walk by.
However, Anastasia, our uber-talented Ukrainian refugee Videographer, traveled to Kyiv to film a little and, most importantly, reunite with her mother, albeit briefly, before returning to Paris.
Anastasia reunites with Mom in Kyiv.
The unsung hero of the trip is the drone we brought from the USA to Ukraine that will help some Ukrainian soldiers surveil Russian troops more safely.
The Drone from NYC – Now in Ukraine and in Capable Hands.
There’s a lot to tell, and we will tell more soon and in episodes in our upcoming Season 10 beginning November 2022. If you’d like to check out many more photos from our trip please visit our Flickr album at the link here – https://flic.kr/s/aHBqjzZrcr
You can read more about our efforts to help our friend Joseph, an American in Ukraine and his efforts to keep refugee kids learning and get basic but life-saving medical supplies to the front. Find out more about his efforts at Care4Ukraine.org
I’m happy to say I caught up with Joseph in Nashville in early August as he was in the US to briefly pick up some supplies to take back. That interview will also be featured in an upcoming episode in Season 10 (our final all-original episodes season).
With Joseph of Help4Ukraine in Nashville
God bless, and God bless the people of Ukraine! Slava Ukraine! Rob
RAW TRAVEL’S CONNECTION TO UKRAINE
Raw Travel has deep connections in Ukraine, having filmed three episodes in Lviv and Kyiv in 2019.
Anastasia, our Ukrainian videographer, and her family are two times refugees, having already fled Donbas for Kyiv. She and her younger brother are now separated from her parents, who remained behind.
Anastasia on location in Madeira, Portugal
In addition to Anastasia, we have several friends from Ukraine who are either exiled refugees or are serving their country fighting. Ukrainians aren’t the only ones drastically affected by this war.
Our musician friends from Russia who have helped craft music for Raw Travel are also refugees because they cannot return to Russia for fear of arrest. They must also find a new country to call home.
We want to help Ukraine heal. In June, we will be traveling to the Ukrainian border to film an episode focusing on giving back. The money raised on our Go Fund Me Page “Raw Travel Helps Ukraine” will focus on grassroots giveback segments in the show, which we hope will represent the Raw Travel ethos of socially responsible travel.
One of the organizations we have identified to work with is Care4Ukraine.org – run by Joseph Nichols, a US Citizen who has been working on engineering projects in Ukraine for eight years and teaching English. You can find out more about their fundraising campaign here – Care4Ukraine.org
We’ll be showcasing other needs and organizations during our filming of course. War is, of course, unpredictable but you can be assured that if we cannot film and use the money outlined above for reasons beyond our control, we will proceed to donate to a legitimate charity that we feel is best helping Ukraine.
You may also buy directly at Raw Travel Merch and approximately $10 of each item (shirts, coffee mugs) will go towards fundraising.
If you donate through our Go Fund Me and would like to take advantage of the merchandise on offer, please message us directly there with your shipping address and we’ll order it for you.
Thank you for your support. Stay tuned here and to social media for progress updates.
Unfortunately, regardless of when this war finally ends, there will likely be a need for humanitarian relief for some time to come. Please stay tuned to this blog and our social media posts for details.
God bless you and God bless the people of Ukraine.
4/20/22 – UPDATE FROM CARE4UKRAINE:
This update is from Joseph from Care4Ukraine (Formerly Keep Kids Learning). As the situation on the ground is changing dramatically, so is the mission. He’s now switching to a more urgent need for medical supplies. We are hoping to meet Joseph in Chicago at the end of the month and roll with him in late May/early June in Poland/Ukraine as he continues his excellent work. Please stay tuned and please help him if you can. Below is slightly edited for brevity and clarity only – from Joseph sent the day Lviv had been bombed:
FROM JOSEPH – I am sure you know that Lviv was more directly impacted with a missile attack today. Normal kids “classes” will be cancelled today. A space was found in Ivano-Frankivsk and one in Uzhgorod along with a number of volunteer teachers.
There was a bit of growing complacency in the IDP population as the number of refugees returning from Poland has been increasing. The number of people returning to Kyiv and Chernihiv has been growing as well. This reverse exodus has been attributed to a sense of security, though regional administrations have been urging people not to return.
Refugees in Poland are having to deal with the sticker shock of EU prices, lack of housing, and the expected refugee fatigue that has begun to surface.
In the IDP population there are three camps that appear to have formed.
The first is comprised of those with above average resources (e.g., money, relatives with large homes, vacation homes) and freedom of movement.
Second, those that were able to secure housing early – but will soon have exhausted funds. The third group are those dependent on aid, charity or have become transient.
It is this third group for which we have most concern. The human-trafficking sharks are circling as well – very nasty people. Keeping an eye on the 15 – 17-year-old’s is important.
Most are just families of women and children. Many have left older parents behind in the care of elder children. As always, these are just observations based on data that is at best….. fragmented.
As the Kids Learning Program develops, I am going back to my roots (medical equipment/healthcare facilities management) and getting aid delivered to more eastern regions. As previously mentioned, getting medical and communications equipment deployed is becoming a priority; as is medical supply deliveries. I will arrive in Chicago on 30 April to assemble donations from various hospitals and public health services that are culling recently expired/ soon-to-be expired disposables, and basic equipment, for shipment to Ukraine via Poland.
Based on what I’m being told, we can expect some very rough months ahead for Ukraine, and these supplies need to be place.
UPDATE May 2, 2022 – ROB INTERVIEWS JOSEPH
Rob caught up with Joseph via zoom, while Joseph made a quick trip to Chicago to pick up some medical supplies to take back to Ukraine.
UPDATE 5/21/22 – Here’s an update from Joseph of Keep the Kids Learning / Help 4 Ukraine in Lviv, Ukraine. Joseph is looking for school space and giving an update on how the economy is hurting most in non-heavy day-to-day combat locales like Lviv, Ukraine. It’s not just OUR grocery or gas bill that has gone up. Putin has singlehandedly wrecked the global economic recovery; as usual, the poor or vulnerable suffer most. You can bet your depleted 401K’s last dollar that the world’s richest man (Putin, not Musk) won’t miss a meal. But good always prevails, IF we are willing, and we are aren’t we? We’re heading to Ukraine next month to hook up with Joseph and show you firsthand the good people he and many others like him are doing. Thank you for your continued support. Visit RawTravelGiveBack.com for more information and thank you for your continued support.
UPDATE 5/22/22 – July 2nd and 3rd, 2022 – Raw Travel Episode 913 – “Let Freedom Ring in Ukraine” will premiere in the USA. Here’s a sneak peek.
Raw Travel’s Episode 913 – Let Freedom Ring Trailer