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Idaho Falls man returns from border rescue, Poles house refugees

IDAHO FALLS, Idaho (KIFI) - In a special team report on Ukraine, we talked with local people who have been deep in the humanitarian efforts overseas.

Idaho Falls man travels to Ukraine to aid effort

Jeff Roper spoke with an Idaho Falls man who went to the war-torn Ukraine border to help those fleeing the country.

Support for Ukraine can be seen all over the area but to understand and go through what four million-plus people are dealing with, can bring everything into perspective.

Right after coverage of the plight of the Ukrainian people broke, an Idaho Falls man felt a calling.

"I've just come back from Krakow, Poland, which is just a couple of hours off the border with Ukraine," said Will Kezlee.

Kezlee is a licensed counselor in Idaho Falls and he works with Sandhill Media. He also started with the help of local radio listeners who funded his trip to the Ukrainian border.

"We went to help wherever we could," he said. "You know, like many of you, uh, we, I sat at home just horrified at what I was seeing."

The mission was simply to move evacuees away from danger.

"We get 2 hours in height, 3 hours, most of sleep, and you just keep going to the border."

But it was more desperate watching the homeless families in the middle of winter in Ukraine, grabbing whatever they could, stuffed into grocery bags and shopping carts, walking hundreds of miles with no food, no water and no answers.

"And they said goodbye to these ten children and they turned around and got in their car, drove back across the border... and they just asked us to please make sure their babies were taken care of," Kezlee said. "You can't understand that 'til you stand there and watch it."

Kezlee had no idea of the things he would see and experience.

"And there was people working on a little baby and the baby died from exposure," he said.

Early on, so many women and children were trafficked while they were trying to flee, until a rescue system was set up for those coming to help.

"I haven't had the heart yet to take them off. They barcoded us. They barcoded them. And if you're pulled over, which I was on two occasions, they'll check your car. And if they don't match, they arrest you."

Hours of driving many times with no direction or GPS, just to a simple hotel room away from the border and even into Croatia to give families a second chance at survival.

"I said, 'is she ok. Is there something wrong?' And she says, 'No. She does this every night and has since our house was shelled. She's having nightmares.' This is a one year old baby having nightmares. And so she just cries out with her eyes closed and she has these horrible nightmares. And then, you know, like the mother says, I said, 'how are you?' Then she goes, 'I can't sleep at night. Because I can't get the bombs out of my head.'"

The courage and resolve of the Ukrainian people left Kezlee in awe.

"I have stories that will never leave my mind or my heart, both beautiful and sad," he said.

And it was the innocence and joy and simple bravery and trust of the children that inspired him most.

"He's hauling his cart. Look it he, I started walking he immediately came over needed grabbed his little hand and he's hauling my car seat. We're helping take this family."

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Polish people housing refugees

Emma Benson spoke with some people in Poland who have been opening their homes to refugees.

4.5 million — that's the number of Ukrainians who have fled their country.

Their lives, their hopes and dreams, put on hold.

"You can go to shop, to the cinema, you can go on vacation, whatever you want," said Poland resident Agnieszka Mazurowska. "You can live your life. But they can’t."

More than half of the refugees have crossed the border into Poland — most carrying just shopping bags of belongings.

Poles like Greg and Lisa Pawlik have been housing refugees, despite language and cultural barriers.

"We have some issues in our history between Poland and Ukraine," Greg said.

But those differences are put aside to help those impacted by an unimaginable war.

"We would never have expected that there would be people alive in our day who live close to our country that have similar experiences as my grandparents had," Greg said.

But through it all — the Ukrainians have remained resilient.

"This is the first time I’ve met so many people from there and they’re just wonderful people. So it’s our reward, you know, it’s not really a sacrifice when you get so much more done to you."

The Pawliks were asked by their church to be refugee coordinators in their area, so they are in charge of finding housing for the refugees and organizing travel to the border — taking supplies in and bringing refugees out.

"Very few people who are taking things in come back without a car full of people," Lisa said.

They're astounded by how many people have been willing to pitch in.

"My faith in humanity is greater than ever," Greg said.

"I'm very touched because so many people are willing to help," Agnieszka said.

Agnieszka is part of the refugee effort in Poland's capital, Warsaw, where she too has had refugee families staying at her house.

"We are not important," she said. "The most important are refugees. We are just here to help them."

Her main role?

Give them a meal and a safe place to sleep — away from the dangers of war.

"One man from Kiev … I said, 'how are you? How do you feel?' And he said, 'you know, Agnieszka, the most important for me is that the sky is clear. There is no bombs.' It seems to you, to me, normal, you open the window you can see the sky. But for them, it is something that they really appreciate. To see clear sky. I think we can learn a lot from these people."

Nearly 10,000 undocumented Ukrainians have been processed by U.S. border officials in the past two months.

The Department of Homeland Security says thousands of refugees who are displaced by Russia's invasion of Ukraine have also traveled to Mexico hoping to request refuge in the U.S.

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Russia-Ukraine war
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Emma Benson

Emma is a morning news anchor and multimedia journalist at Local News 8.

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Jeff Roper

Jeff is a member of the First Alert Team.


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