Serving in Poland and Ukraine


A small Samaritan’s Feet team spent a few days safely serving in Poland and Ukraine. Read below to learn about these special distributions during a difficult time.

Share This Story:

“On the 24th of February, I turned on Putin’s speech and his last words were that Russia was going to attack. He didn’t even finish his sentence and I could already hear the bombing in Kiev, Ukraine,” said Oksana, a Ukrainian from Kiev. The next few moments for Oksana were the same for many others across the country—a short amount of time to make incredibly important life-changing, and life-saving, decisions.

“I woke up my kids and asked the older one to help with the packing. I went out to pull some cash from the ATM, just in case. I called my friends and ended up taking two more boys, one girl, and two cats in my car. Nobody was prepared, so where do you go? You need to make a decision right away, like in five or ten minutes,” said Oksana.

Seeing footage of millions of refugees leaving their homes in Ukraine carrying only what they were able to frantically pack, Samaritan’s Feet knew we had to do our part to help. Partnering with Convoy of Hope, a disaster relief organization, Samaritan’s Feet immediately sent two containers of shoes and socks to Poland, a neighboring country receiving thousands of Ukrainians entering daily.

Once the shipment arrived in Poland, a small Samaritan’s Feet team traveled to Eastern Europe to help distribute a portion of those shoes and socks, and to support the efforts of Convoy of Hope. The team first arrived at the Convoy of Hope warehouse in Lublin, Poland to the Convoy of Hope, which stored the shoes and socks from Samaritan’s Feet.

The warehouse was full of generous gifts from organizations and companies, soon to be distributed to families and individuals fleeing for their lives. In one corner of the warehouse, a group of six Ukrainian women and children sat patiently sorting and preparing that very shipment of socks. They had previously been supported by Convoy of Hope with food and other supplies and they wanted to fill their day with something, something that would help others just as they had been helped.

It was this moment, unbeknownst to the team, that would inspire the rest of the week—a week filled with moments of respect, stories of compassion, and desires for normalcy.

“We were here right after the invasion. The biggest thing we do is we try to make sure that every person maintains their dignity no matter what. During a disaster, we want a person to feel like a person,” said Christian Rodriguez, International Disaster Response Manager, Convoy of Hope.

Day 1: Rzeszów, Poland and Strażów, Poland

The morning started at shopping mall turned refugee center in Rzeszów. Right after the war in Ukraine began, upstairs tenants at the mall were quickly moved downstairs so the Centrum Medyczne (Medical Center) could be set up. That upstairs was now filled with hundreds of cots, a laundry center, play area for children, showers, a cafeteria, and more.

“We established this place for people who are fleeing the violence in Ukraine. We have had about 10,000 people come through the Center in total. The capacity is about 500 people,” said Rafał Kut, Director of Communication, Centrum Medyczne. “At the beginning, we were overflowing with people. We don’t know if the conflict will expand, so we are keeping this open.”

For some refugees, it was a safe transition point as they would stay there a few days and then travel to other western countries or Polish cities, but individuals may stay as long as they need. Many, just like Oksana, fled quickly and grabbed only a few necessary items that they could easily transport. “When people arrive, they have their basic necessities with them. Sometimes they leave very fast and they may have just had a couple minutes to grab things and just run. At the beginning, there were people who traveled for 50-60 hours, so they were exhausted, especially the kids,” said Kut.

About five large bags of shoes were sent up the elevator to the upper level of the mall so the first ever distribution in Poland could begin. This one would look a little different than a normal Samaritan’s Feet event. Because of the small team and space, it naturally progressed into a “shop and try” style event which ended up being the most fitting for this special group of recipients. This allowed these refugees, who have experienced an abnormal life the last few months, to have a normal experience. They browsed all the shoes, found the ones they liked, and tried them on. A typical experience.

“It is so refreshing [when groups come in], especially for the children. Some of them have had trauma because they saw things that no child is supposed to see. We try to bring as much of a normal life for them as possible,” said Kut. At this distribution, the team met Lilliana, a young girl who tried on about 10 pairs of shoes in search of the pair she liked most. She gently smiled as she tried on each pair, examining them carefully and looking to others for approval. Lilliana’s mother helped her other, younger daughter try on several as well, finally asking for the team’s opinion on which one looked the best on her.

An older woman also tried on several pairs; she gave the impression that she was unable to decide. She then asked a team member, “may I have one pair for summer and one pair for fall?” The team member eagerly said, “yes, absolutely!” And with tears in her eyes, seemingly overcome by a simple “yes,” the older woman wished for health and peace over the team member. 

How beautiful to be able to give a simple “yes” to someone who has probably heard “no” all too often in the last few months during the war. 

Later that afternoon, the team headed to Strażów, Poland, to a hotel that is now transitional housing for Ukrainian refugees. Strażów is about 50 miles from the Ukrainian border, so it is often a first stop for refugees as they cross the border. Underneath a covered outdoor eating area, the team began the distribution just like earlier in the day—placing the shoes out on the table so that the individuals could see them all and select which ones they liked best. 

Moms and their children came out of their rooms and began to peruse the shoes available. They casually interacted with the team after picking their shoes: a pregnant woman sharing details of when she was due, a teenage girl shyly stating that she played the piano, and a toddler constantly smiling prompting everyone else to smile.

When talking with those who have helped refugees in this location and nearby, the team often heard that the need for shoes was something that was unexpected. But story after story came in of those arriving in Poland in desperate need of clothing and shoes, including one story of a girl who arrived in Poland in galoshes because that’s what she wore the day she left Ukraine.

Day 2: Birky, Ukraine and Lviv, Ukraine

Samaritan’s Feet crossed the border into Ukraine to head towards two western cities in a safe area of the country. Passing through the countryside, the sun was shining upon the every-so-often small neighborhood tucked away in the rolling green hills. 

The team would first head to an orphanage in Birky, Ukraine. It’s reported that the war has displaced two-thirds of children in Ukraine (United Nations, 2022). This orphanage recently merged with another and now housed, educated, fed, and took care of around 70 children, many with disabilities. Additionally, any and all government funding that this orphanage received now goes to the military, so resources are carefully allocated. A gift like new shoes for everyone was a welcome treat.

As the van pulled onto the property, it was met with curious kids on bicycles, little ones pointing and smiling, and eager pre-teens ready to help carry bags. A young boy in a blue shirt, no taller than three feet, quickly jumped in to help trying to carry a duffel bag bigger and heavier than him. The bags were opened and as the shoes were revealed, smiles, bright eyes, and excited “ohhhs!” filled the tree-shaded area.

Children, and the teachers and employees, looked at all of the shoes, sorting out which were their favorites. The team helped the children find their sizes and try them on, often giving a thumbs-up or high-five to let them know how good they looked. One girl tried on every pink pair she could find and when she finally found the perfect pair, she stood up to proudly show them off and gave a massive smile that you can only get from pure joy.

“Many of the children had very worn shoes. So today was so nice because they each got their own new shoes and they got to pick colors and are very colorful. They were all very happy,” said Oxandria, the head accountant at the orphanage.

Something simple brought delight to those children that day. They experienced a bit of comfort and happiness in the midst of chaos and unknowns. Perhaps they’ll feel it every time they look at or wear their new shoes and that sprinkle of compassion will continue on. As the team packed up to leave, Oxandria simply said, “thank you for coming and supporting our kids and Ukraine.”

The team would now head towards the heart of city of Lviv to Lviv-Holovnyi Railway Station. This station had become a hub for those fleeing the country—individuals would ride the train from their homes throughout Ukraine to Lviv, and then take busses across the border into Poland.

The area outside of the train station was crowded with people and their small bags trying to determine their next steps. One man opened his bag of belongings and pulled out what appeared to be a framed photo of his mom. Just a small token of his home before he moved to another one. 

There were numerous organizations with booths filled with food, clothing, medical supplies, and other resources to give to those on their journey to safety. Samaritan’s Feet partnered with one of these organizations to give them the remaining shoes the team brought into Ukraine. 

The donation of shoes included boots which would be given to Ukrainian military members who needed new, protective shoes. The assortment of athletic shoes would stay at the organization’s booth and be given to families and individuals as they arrive to the train station in their pursuit of peace. 

It had been, and would be, a long trip for many of these people, so the hope of Samaritan’s Feet is that these shoes help lighten the load, even if just a little bit.

Day 3: Rzeszów, Poland and Malawa, Poland

Back in Rzeszów, Poland, Samaritan’s Feet began the final distribution which would be held at a Catholic resource center. This center helps give food and various supplies to Ukrainian refugees who are now living in Rzeszów.

The shoes were once again, placed on tables and sorted by size. Individuals came in and began searching and picking out shoes for themselves and their family members. Little ones, just barely taller than the table, looked wide-eyed at the bright tennis shoes.

Families took their time selecting shoes, and even called others to tell them about this new resource that was available to them. Shoes, especially new athletic shoes, were clearly a sought-after and much-needed item for refugees in the area.

Later that afternoon, the team traveled about an hour to Malawa, Poland where they would visit a beautiful Ukrainian couple now living in Poland. The couple graciously invited the team to sit at their dining room table, with homemade cookies at the center, in their temporary home.

The couple tearfully told the story of how it took them six days to travel from their home in eastern Ukraine to Poland. They showed us photos of their home with the windows now blown out. They proudly told us about their family. And they smiled as we complimented them on the amazing cookies they made us.

These two individuals were brave and had overcome so much hardship, and their compassion, in spite of those hardships, was palpable. 

Samaritan’s Feet hopes we showed a little bit of that same compassion during these days in Poland by giving shoes in a respectful and dignified way, while creating moments of normalcy for these refugees. And hopefully, that compassion will positively impact their journey and story.

Oxana said it best, “Ukraine is my country. I really do believe there is something more powerful than firing guns, and I think that Ukraine has that. The humanity of it all, it’s hard to accept and understand it, but there are so many other stories that haven’t been told yet.”