INTERVIEW: Refugee who escaped to Poland helps fellow Ukrainians seeking safety
By Neil A. Carousso
NEW YORK (WCBS 880) — More than 1 million people have fled Ukraine since Russia invaded last week, accounting for 2% of the Ukrainian population.
A refugee who escaped the war and bloodshed in Ukraine is now helping his fellow Ukrainians cross the border into Poland, where they have been welcomed with open arms.
Mykola Golubei escaped Kyiv with his wife last week after waking up in the middle of the night to Russian rocket attacks.
“Suddenly I realized that I could die every moment,” Golubei told WCBS 880. “Each second could be the last second of my life because the rocket could get in the building where I was so I just started catching all the things I could, taking my wife. My mom was in shock. I realized that the war started and my wife said, ‘No, no it’s something, maybe gas, or something.’ And we ran on the subway and I have a WhatsApp chat with three of my close friends and one of them typed in the chat, ‘Hey guys, I just saw the light of the rocket attack.'”
Golubei and his wife went got on a train at a nearby station, without even knowing where it was going, just to escape Kyiv.
He realized halfway through the trip that the train was bound for Poland.
For the first two days, he and his wife were in terrible shock, jumping at every sound, fearing that the war had reached Poland.
By the third day, he started receiving messages from others seeking help to find a car or bus to get out of Ukraine.
Golubei is now in a shelter in Poland, near the Ukrainian border, where he is organizing efforts to help citizens who are seeking refuge. He and a group of at least eight other people started a coordination center for volunteers to assist Ukrainians seeking safety.
“We need food, we need medicine, we need sleeping bags, but first of all we need the war to stop,” he said. “We need a lot of government organizations to help the Ukraine army, but a lot of people just go and help to protect the citizens — they don’t have ammunition, they don’t have the protection on their head, protection on their heart. We don’t ask for rockets, we just ask for something to protect people.”
Golubei said he feels guilty that he is safe in Poland and is trying to get others out.
“I feel shame and guilt,” he said. “My wife and me feel the guilt that we are here now and safe and our friends are there and so that’s why we give, all of us, our time and energy and desire to help other people.”
The Russian invasion of Ukraine has upended not only his life, but the lives of all Ukrainians, and now Golubei is solely focused on the other refugees that he is trying to help.
“You know, do you have experience when you have a plan? Plan on vacation? Plan next week? I have a lot of plans and now my plans are just the next right action,” he said. “Last Wednesday, I had a plan with my wife. We went to buy pets, two rats in a zoo shop, it was our plan, and we were thinking which of them we wanted to buy the next day, and the next day the war started and so all of my plans are just ruined. So I try to be as busy as I could all day long, calling somebody, typing, put post, go to the train station, talk to the people.”
Golubei said most of his friends have decided to stay in Kyiv and Kharkiv and are ready to die for Ukraine.
He is heartbroken by the images he is receiving from friends and family of bomb shelters that have been set up in the place where he calls home.
“I have just one question — why?” Golubei said. “I couldn’t explain myself why Vladimir Putin started doing this because if he had all the power in the world he could build a university, he could start an educational program, he could do everything with the money that he’s got. Why did he start the war? I don’t understand.”
There are several organizations that are collecting donations for Ukraine relief efforts including the Ukrainian Red Cross and the International Rescue Committee, the United Nations World Food Programme, Doctors Without Borders among others.