Brothers from 2 Edmonton-area families travelling to Poland-Ukraine border to help refugees

Brothers from two Edmonton-area families will fly to Poland next week to help refugees arriving from Ukraine.

Nestor and Pawel Turczyk of Beaumont and their friends James, Daniel and Tim Sousa of Edmonton plan to fly to Kraków from Edmonton on March 31 and return home on April 18.

From Kraków they will travel to Przemyśl, a small city that is 20 minutes from the Ukrainian border and has become a humanitarian hub for thousands of refugees.

Nestor Turczyk said his parents fled the city when it was under communist rule 40 years ago, eventually coming to Edmonton as refugees. The Sousa family, members of whom had fled Ukraine during the Second World War, helped the Turczyks get settled in Canada.

Turczyk has cousins in Przemyśl who are doctors and a local firefighter will be their contact on the border. 

The group plans to spend most of their time transporting refugees and emergency supplies.

“We understand what we’re going to go into and we understand that a lot of the things that we’ll see we’ll probably live with until the day we die, but that’s nothing compared to what these people are going to live with for the rest of their lives,” Turczyk said.

The brothers plan to bring suitcases full of medical supplies and other items with them to Poland. (Madeleine Cummings/CBC)

Both sets of brothers speak Ukrainian. Nestor and his brother also speak Polish.

“From what we’ve heard, anybody that can speak both languages is a pretty important asset right now,” Turczyk said.

Tim Sousa said when Pawel Turczyk told him about the brothers’ idea on the phone, he knew immediately he wanted to go too. His brother-in-law, Elliott Thorpe, also agreed to join them and plans to fly from Halifax to meet the crew in Kraków on April 1.

Sousa said he sings with a men’s choir that has collaborated with Ukrainian artists for a decade. A number of his friends in the country have enlisted in Ukraine’s military and he has family members who are still living in the country.

“It’s a very real and personal thing for us because I’ve talked with people that are still there and you can just tell there’s a lot of despair,” he said.

James Sousa said his wife and brothers’ families have been supporting the group by organizing supplies, sorting boxes, budgeting and managing their social media channels.

The men have paid for their own flights, meals and accommodations but are raising money for a rental van, fuel and humanitarian supplies. Their crowdfunding campaign has raised more than $75,000.

The team plans to share updates from Poland on Facebook, Instagram and GoFundMe.

“For us, it’s important that people understand that this is still going on,” Tim Sousa said. 

James Sousa said the men are prepared to help in any way they can.

“My biggest goal is to be able to look these refugees in the eye and be able to show them that we are living proof that there are places in the world that will help you and will help your family become anything you want to be,” he said.

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