Take a look at three North Carolinars volunteering around Ukraine

Content warning: This article contains any mention of violence.




“In film, ‘hero’ is an overused word, and I didn’t really feel like I understood heroism until I experienced it on the pitch in Ukraine.”

That’s what Dave Jernigan said after spending a month in Lviv, the largest city in Western Ukraine, working as a volunteer. He said everyone he met had “tremendous heroism” about them.

Jernigan, a resident of Hillsborough, volunteers from late May 2022 to June 2022 to help the country amid a Russian invasion.

As the country’s seventh largest city, Lviv has hosted some 250,000 registered internally displaced people and around 150,000 unregistered displaced people since the invasion began just over a year ago.

During his time as a volunteer, Jernigan said he saw the trauma of several generations of refugees.

“Lviv – it’s such a beautiful place,” said Jernigan. “It’s a very lively city, but everywhere you look you see trauma.”

In one of his volunteer roles, Jernigan says he helped turn a network of Soviet-era tunnels beneath the hospital into an air raid shelter so patients and doctors could be evacuated — sometimes in the middle of an operation — if danger was imminent.

Jernigan said his group of volunteers often sat in the hospital grounds and fed the pigeons stale bread. He recounts one day when a small child wrapped in bandages squealed with joy at the sight of many birds.

Jernigan immediately noticed that the boy was missing most of his fingers on one hand and was badly burned.

“I can’t think of a day that’s gone by since I’ve been home where I didn’t see the kid — and the parent in me just broke,” said Jernigan. “I saw this very deformed child, but I also saw this beautiful child who was very happy to see all these pigeons.”

Jernigan said he was moved by the passion and resilience of the Ukrainian people.

Jonathan Mills, a Chapel Hill native who previously lived in Poland, has also worked in support of Ukraine since the Russian invasion.

She has been working as a full-time volunteer in Warsaw, Poland, since March 5, 2022 to provide trauma-informed early childhood care to refugees.

Since the war in Ukraine began, more than 10 million Ukrainians have crossed the border into Poland. Most of those people are women and children because men between the ages of 18 and 60 cannot leave Ukraine, Mills said.

Mills said these mothers needed to work to buy a home, which they couldn’t do unless they had a safe place for their children. Together with his group of volunteers, Mills has set up a nursery to provide quality early childhood education and care, especially for Ukrainian children.

“It’s really hard, but at the same time, you see kids happy and playing and that’s what kids should be doing and it gives you hope,” Mills said. “Kids have to play. That’s what kids have to do.”

To date, Mills and his team of volunteers have opened 67 program centers across Poland and have just received funding to open 21 additional locations. Mills said the group hopes to open 100 in early May.

Mills said the team has trained about 270 teachers to work in the centers. He added that there are currently 15 staff psychologists and another 28 individuals dealing with educational programming and content, including real estate development fundraising and teams.

“It’s really humbling to have so many people doing such a great job,” said Mills. “Just a lot of people with big hearts who work really hard.”

Isabella Romine, a first year student at Wake Forest University, also volunteered to help with the Ukraine war effort.

He was studying Russian in Chișinău, Moldova when the invasion of Ukraine first started and felt compelled to help.

Romine says during his six weeks of volunteering, he was one of the few volunteers who spoke Russian, so he helped lead refugees around the center and showed them the resources they had to offer.

“I have Russian language skills that I can use with people who are going through one of the most difficult times in their lives, and I feel compelled to do so,” says Romine.

Romine says volunteering is not only a physically taxing endeavor – as she moves boxes and pallets of shipments – it also comes with an emotional toll.

“Then, on the other hand, there’s — there’s the emotional aspect where these people are having, like, the worst moment of their life and you’re a witness,” Romine says.

Romine says one of the most important parts of his job is just having conversations with people.

“Everyone is still human regardless of what they’re going through, and just talk to someone and, you know, let them say what they have to say and be there and listen,” says Romine. “It’s also very important, regardless of what a person is going through.”


@DTHCityState | [email protected]

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