Lincoln woman spends 11 days in Poland helping Ukrainian refugees

Tatyana Gulchuk was asked to join a group of 6 women in Lincoln who would be going to the Polish-Ukrainian border to help with refugees.
Published: May. 9, 2022 at 5:27 PM CDT
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LINCOLN, Neb. (KOLN) - Tatyana Gulchuk was 10-years-old when she moved from western Ukraine to the United States. When the Russian invasion and ensuing war started earlier in the year, she felt distraught and helpless.

“I couldn’t do anything,” Gulchuk said. “I was just war, war. Checking in with friends, family. At night, I would wake up and check the news right away.”

Gulchuk works as a financial coordinator at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Her boss told her she could take time off if she needed it. All Gulchek could think about was wishing she was there and could help. One Sunday night, she was talking about it with her husband.

“I said, ‘Man, I wish I could go to Poland,” Gulchuk said with a chuckle. Just a day later, she was extended an invitation to join a group of six women from House of Prayer Church in Lincoln that would be going to the Polish-Ukrainian border to help with refugees. “Monday I got that message, I texted my husband, see this is a sign. I need to go,” Gulchuk said.

The group asked if they could bring anything, like medical supplies. The organization on the ground said what would be really beneficial is to bring some candy for the children. The group obliged.

The refugee center in which Tatyana Gulchuk volunteered was a converted athletic facility. The...
The refugee center in which Tatyana Gulchuk volunteered was a converted athletic facility. The space featured multiple cots to give the refugees a chance to rest before being transported to a more permanent assistance site. (Courtesy photo)(Courtesy)

Days later Gulchuk and her group were in Poland near the border, not so far from the city she was born in. For 11 days in March, she worked to help refugees at a sports-complex turned facility for helping Ukrainians crossing the border. Gulchuk still speaks Ukrainian.

To ease refugees' nerves, volunteers made certain food was ready at all times. Nebraska's...
To ease refugees' nerves, volunteers made certain food was ready at all times. Nebraska's Tatyana Gulchuk (left) and other volunteers are shown here at a food station within an athletic facility that was converted into a refugee center. (Courtesy photo)(Courtesy)

“I served food, registered people, made sure they had transportation, SIM cards,” Gulchuk said. “I personally drove people, transporting them to different cities, borders, hospitals.”

Gulchuk got to spend a lot of times hearing stories from the refugees. She said-- one family had a missile shot into their home, but they managed to escape unharmed. Grandmas who had lived through World War 2 told her that they believed the Russian soldiers were acting worse than the Nazis.

Tatyana Gulchuk spent time talking with numerous refugees, including many elderly women. She...
Tatyana Gulchuk spent time talking with numerous refugees, including many elderly women. She recorded many of the refugees' stories of survival. (Courtesy photo)(Courtesy)

But one moment specifically sticks out in her mind.

“It was a family crossing the border. Two sisters and their kids,” Gulchuk remembered. “I picked this little girl up... She said ‘My daddy couldn’t come.’ She was three years old. She said ‘He couldn’t come he had to stay back and fight.’ Oh my gosh. That broke my heart.”

Tatyana Gulchuk holds Arisha, a child from Mariupol, at a refugee assistance center along the...
Tatyana Gulchuk holds Arisha, a child from Mariupol, at a refugee assistance center along the border with Poland. (Courtesy photo)(Courtesy)

Gulchuk gave her candy and helped her family through the facility. Gulchuk said the Ukrainian refugees have hope they will be reunited with their loved ones and their country, but she says it’s too hard to know if that will ever come true.

The heartbreak and helplessness Gulchuk felt when Russia first invaded Ukraine was healed slightly the more she was able to help on the ground.

“I was like 100 kilometers from my city, where I was born. I met lots of people from that city,” Gulchuk said. “It just brought warmth to my soul that I was able to serve them.”

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