The Nantucket Cares team gathered in the high school auditorium on Wednesday to discuss their three week trip to Poland to assist Ukrainian refugees in April following the Russian invasion. Through a powerful 10-minute film created by Nantucket Cares member, photographer, and filmmaker Kit Noble that can be found at the bottom of this story, dozens of island residents had the chance to get a brief look at some of the 4,500 refugees this group was able to assist.
But the moment that struck many was when Ukrainian refugee Yulia Polishchuk spoke about her firsthand experience living in the midst of the war and the consequences it has bestowed on millions of people, including herself, and how the Nantucket Cares team came to her aid.
“I was at a point where I didn’t know what to do. Do I leave or do I stay and hide in my basement. I took my daughter (Anna) to the train station and didn’t know what was next, but Nantucket Cares gave us hope,” Polishchuk said. “Nantucket Cares did everything for us. They supported us and still support us every day. I will never forget their kindness and generosity. I will never forget the hope they brought me and my daughter.”
Polishchuk joined the Nantucket Cares’ team two months ago. They supplied her with an apartment in close proximity to several bases where refugees are based. She goes out daily to supply them with water, food, train tickets to another part of Europe where they can either be more safe or find better shelter, and anything else they may need.
Tom McCann, who spearheaded the idea of creating this crisis management organization, spoke throughout much of the event, discussing the impact that their trip to Poland had on not just himself, but every other team member.
“For me and I think I speak for the rest of my team, it was the most physically, emotionally, and mentally draining days of our lives," he said. "It was tough. I remember coming back and talking to everyone about how did you sleep last night and one person would say I didn’t sleep too well and another would say well I didn’t sleep too well either. We saw way more than we expected to see.”
The organization raised approximately $325,000 in three weeks leading up to their trip and McCann made a point to thank everyone in the audience and those who were not in attendance but have supported the cause for their generosity, saying none of this would be possible without the island community.
The team is made up of aid members including McCann, Johnathan & Kasia Rodriguez, Chris Yates, Noble, Jacquie Colgan, Brian McKernan, and Yuliya Novak. It also consists of some "Home Team" members such as Robin Slick, Tracy Long, Sarah Cribari, Kelly McKernan, and Cheryl Fudge.
The group is planning another trip in the fall. Brian McKernan was part of the Aid Mission Team and said it can be difficult to truly understand what is taking place in Europe without being there but spoke from his perspective on how powerful the experience was for him.
“You can see some of the stuff on TV but (it is different) when you go there and you see the looks on these faces, most of which are women and children, when you stand in a food tent and you serve soup for four hours nonstop and the line doesn’t stop and it is thousands and thousands and thousands of people,” McKernan said.
McKernan said they have received donations from all four corners of the United States, but a significant amount came from Nantucket. About 55 percent of all donations went to support refugee shelters and orphanages, supplying them with food, supplies, kid’s toys and coloring books, anything they need. He said the needs change on a weekly basis. About 30 percent has gone to their two workers who remain on the ground, such as Polishchuk, and is used for them to buy and supply refugees they come across with the goods and services they need. 10 percent went towards administrative costs and five percent went towards supporting their next fundraising effort for a new mission trip.
Below is the 10-minute clip put together by Noble: