This is the second part of a two part blog about Coeur Collective Beat Member Lia Belardo. Lia and her sister traveled to Poland with a Non-Governmental Organization called SSF-Rescuers Without Boarders to help refugees from the war in Ukraine and we asked her to document as much of her mission as possible. Her report starts here:
On Tuesday March 8th, my sister Danielle who is a Doctor in Newport Beach, CA, found out that there was a need for emergency medical services in Medyka, Poland.
Medyka is on the border of Poland and Ukraine and their border crossing is one of the most traveled paths for many refugees in Ukraine. We planned the trip out there in a few days, and on Thursday night we started our journey to the border. We flew into Krakow, Poland and met up with another doctor, Preethi, from Mt. Sinai in NYC, and our friend Marie who is a nutritionist and RD.
From the airport we made the 3 hour drive to the border with suitcases full of medical supplies, food, baby formula, and stuffed animals. Upon arrival we were told we were working the night shift at the medical tent.
The shifts were 14 hours long and it was freezing cold. We wore ski pants, multiple jackets, gloves when possible, and thermal hats and scarves. The wind was truly relentless.
Our first night there was the Russian attack of the Ukrainian Military base. We didn’t know it was a bombing until much later in the day, but we saw smoke and ambulances driving on the road at top speeds. Later we found out the bombing was 20KM from our camp.
We saw refugees from all over Ukraine. Some as close as Lviv, which was 43 miles away from our camp, and some from all over Ukraine that traveled days to make it to safety, I observed hypothermia, dehydration, nausea, hunger, and a lot of diaper rash. we all saw babies, children, and the elderly who had been physically pushed to the limit on their long journey to safety.
Once the refugees went through customs, they then go down the path to the busses and transport area. Busses left every 15 minutes for various destinations in Poland, and many refugees had arranged housing via facebook groups, Instagram, and TikTok.
There were only women, children, and the elderly coming through, so due to that sensitive nature, as a woman, I was instrumental creating safe spaces for them to rest and wait for their transportation. There were nights where our heat stopped working in the tents, there were times when we had people with disabilities need real help getting around, and there was a lot of sadness. With the help of translators, we spoke to children who left their pets behind, left their fathers behind, and were scared for their homes and family members still in Ukraine.
We saw amazing displays of strength and resilience. One woman in her 70s learned the English word, strong. She kept telling us “I am Strong” over and over again as she stumbled to walk to the busses.
We saw a team rescue a group of 6 hearing impaired people, and as we loaded them into a van to go to Krakow, the only way to communicate was through hugs. We handed out stuffed unicorns from 5 below – and I had left the tags on them, the children loved getting hugs and stuffed animals from America.
They thought the fact they were from the US made them special. The NGO we were with (/) did daily runs inside to Ukraine and worked to bring people back over the border.
We met two Holocaust survivors who were rescued by our team, and so many more women and children who needed help getting over.
All in all we worked four 14 hour shifts, and the two doctors saw hundreds of refugees. We were then relieved by another medical team from the US, and went on our journey back home. I would specifically like to thank the Coeur Collective Beat team for donating thousands of dollars which enabled me to hand out items and monetary aid to hundreds of refugees.
I understand that there are not many people who have the skills to actually go to a refugee camp, I acknowledge I have a tremendous privilege to even have been helpful on site.
Giving back and helping out is only going to be positive if you are contributing what you can within your own boundaries. I would encourage people to take time to reflect on what skills they have and how they can utilize those skills to help, this cause or any cause that speaks to them.
Giving back is more than volunteering, it’s a way of thinking. Generosity is a way of life that can benefit us all. From letting someone in your lane while driving, to pitching in at a local event, to fundraising for something that is important to you, little acts of kindness daily, sets the tone for how we can live our most fulfilling lives.