The drive to save lives
City native raises funds to transport Ukrainian refugees in new home Poland
A Warren native is a witness to history as her new home of Warsaw, Poland, welcomes Ukrainian refugees as they flee their war-torn country, and her volunteerism and donations possibly have saved the lives of dozens.
Wendy Marvin recalls one of her first interactions with a Ukrainian refugee while walking down her street. The woman was asking for directions to the pharmacy, and with their language barrier, Marvin decided it would be easier to escort her there. Marvin discovered the woman had been in Poland for four days after fleeing Ukraine.
“She said ‘my home’ and made a flattening motion with her hands,” Marvin recalled. “Her home in Ukraine was completely destroyed. Your heart just breaks in that kind of moment.”
Marvin, a business English teacher for the Polish company Eklektika, moved to Poland in February 2020. She left Warren in 2014 for Paris, and from there she spent time in China and Bali before being offered the job in Poland. Marvin has integrated quickly into her new country and has loved her time there more than she anticipated.
“I knew I would like it but I had no idea what a wonderful country Poland is,” Marvin said. “It’s really amazing, I mean outside of what’s going on right now. Just wonderful people and a beautiful country.”
Over the last two weeks, Poland has accepted 1.25 million refugees from Ukraine, and 58 of those refugees, plus a dog, were able to make it over the border thanks to Marvin and her friends: Barbara and Danny Doster of Alabama; Dawn and Randy Lockmiller of Tennessee; Diana Millheiser of Florida; and Sandy Moses of Florida and formerly of Warren. She and six friends raised the Polish equivalent of approximately $700 to give to Pinball Station, a pinball museum in Warsaw. Pawel Nowak, an employee at the museum, is raising funds to make border runs to bring the fleeing Ukrainian people to Warsaw.
Marvin wrote a social media post about the bus she helped sponsor and was flooded with comments and messages from friends back home asking how they can contribute. Marvin, Barbara Doster, Dawn Lockmiller, Marla Brady and Teri Surin decided to do a round of donations from people in the states with her friends heading up the collection process.
Surin, of Warren, collected money in the Warren area with Lockmiller, Doster and Brady covering the southern portion of the U.S., including Tennessee, Alabama and Florida. The group raised more than $3,000, enough to sponsor another five buses and the transportation of approximately 300 more Ukrainian refugees into Poland. Marvin said she is overwhelmed and blown away by the amount of support, and plans to take the money to Nowak on Wednesday.
“When a few friends from the states contacted me and asked if they could send me money and I would see that it was used where I thought best, I immediately thought of Pawel,” Marvin wrote in a social media post. “I am touched by their generosity and very excited to report that their funds sponsored a bus and these people are now safe in Warsaw.”
Marvin said it felt “amazing” to see the refugees who were able to come over thanks to her donation.
“You can put a face with your dollar. I mean it’s real. This war is real, these refugees are real,” Marvin said. “How many times have you sat in front of a television and seen something going on in another part of the world, and you know it’s real, but you don’t feel it? It doesn’t touch you? This did.”
Marvin said it felt natural to want to help those coming into the country, especially with her international experience and the friends she has made with ties to Ukraine. Her housekeeper, who is from Ukraine, went back to her country six weeks ago to visit her adult sons. Marvin hasn’t heard from her in five days.
Marvin said she has taught students from all over, and she has kept in contact with many of them through the years. She had two students from Ukraine when she taught at a summer camp Bulgaria, one of whom she knows made it safely across the border to Bulgaria. Marvin lost contact with the other student after he entered a bomb shelter, and she hasn’t heard from him since.
“So it’s kind of turned very personal for me. It’s different when you see it on the TV from, you know, across the pond,” Marvin said. “It’s different really knowing people that are affected by it.”
Marvin not only helped orchestrate the busing of the 58 refugees, but she has bought supplies and has donated her time to the Warsaw Central Train Station. The station is serving as a halfway point for those who fled Ukraine and are in the process of relocating. Some refugees are sleeping on the floor of the station, including young children. Marvin brought shampoo, toothpaste and toothbrushes the last time she was there, and plans to bring snacks and activities to keep the children entertained. Arena Ursynow was turned into a shelter for refugees and can hold up to 20,000 people, according to Marvin. She said it’s great to have those facilities, but the truly remarkable aspect of the refugee situation is locals are taking people into their own homes.
The Russian invasion has cast a negative light on Russia, which Marvin said is unfair. She wants people to remember the Russian people are not responsible for their government’s actions, and those who speak out face severe consequences. According to NPR, more than 13,000 Russians in 147 cities have been detained at anti-war rallies since Russia first invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24.
Despite the overwhelming negativity, Marvin said her experience in Poland during the Ukraine crisis has made her realize just how much good there is in the world. In a time where it’s easy to focus on the negative, she is choosing to focus on the good.
“We’re really all the same, we want the same thing. We want to go to sleep at night, and be able to know we’re going to wake up in the morning and our house still going to be there and we’re going to be able to eat three meals and be happy,” Marvin said. “It makes me realize how short life really is and how it can change in an instant.”