Brian Mayer: Reporting from Poland

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Brian Mayer

Kings Highway Elementary, Bedford Middle, and a 2006 Hopkins School graduate, Brian Mayer is a senior technology executive in New York City.

But these days he is in Przemsyl, Poland. It helps deliver supplies for Ukrainian refugees and the military.

So far he has raised over $10,000 from his friends and family.

Here is Brian’s first report, sent to everyone who donated:

I am writing to you from the border with Ukraine. Thank you all for your donations so far.

Fundraising turns out to be much easier than sourcing needed supplies. We gave away over 130 power banks all of which you donated in about 3 minutes flat, and these are the only ones we could find for purchase today.

Tourniquets, power banks, thermal underwear (it’s snowing in Poland right now) and most accommodation in Poland and elsewhere in the EU are all in short supply. I hear that 30,000 people still cross the border every day.

A screenshot of Brian Mayer.

Thousands of Ukrainians are also returning there. We hear stories of landlords in Odessa demanding rent, bosses calling people back to work, and more. It’s a fluid situation, with a lot of needs on both sides of the border.

There is almost no formal procurement effort, everything is driven by volunteers. The station staff don’t speak Russian or Ukrainian and don’t seem to know anything about where trains go or how to find buses. It’s a small border town and it’s completely overrun. Very few police keep order. People help their friends, and friends coordinate their efforts from within.

It’s overwhelming to be here. It looks like a war zone in itself. We are now waiting for the next train to come from Lviv — it is already 7 hours late. When he arrives, an army of volunteers from all over Europe is there to help people find housing, food and medical care. There is a great team from the UK that I am in contact with, a team of Russian language masters students who are all here. One of them is putting me up tonight in his hotel, so I’ll go back to Warsaw tomorrow.

My companion today, Jonathan, is a Montreal-based Polish-Canadian documentary filmmaker who spent 10 years telling the story of Polish WWII refugees and where they settled (click here for his doc). He is making a documentary about the refugee crisis here and with the Syrians on the border with Belarus, where his family is from. It’s as if we were both chasing after our family history.

On the phone, one of my former work colleagues in Lviv tells me that his wife and children are safe in Poland. He wasn’t worried about their safety in Lviv, but he didn’t want his children to see what was happening.

“It’s not just about Ukraine,” he tells me, “it’s about the whole world. If only you knew…this is so insane. He says the biggest needs right now are “tens” of HD tablets of a certain model needed to operate their artillery equipment and vacuum medical systems for gunshot wounds.

I heard that people in Kharkiv are leading a civilian brigade. They need humanitarian aid and medicine, including insulin and injectable painkillers. Refugees crossing the border need power banks to charge their phones to contact their families and find accommodation.

Everyone needs something different. We are trying to find thermal imaging drones right now for the defense effort. Everyone in Europe is exhausted.

Another report from Brian.

We meet families who traveled for 3 weeks from the east of the country under the most violent bombardments. This is the second wave of refugees, that is, those who have survived hell and managed to get out of it. The first wave came out fast and early; they had money and connections in Europe.

The people of this wave all have stories to tell. A woman, her mother and her daughter came from Cherniv where the mother’s cancer clinic was bombed. They had to travel to Germany to see a doctor. We put them on a private train to Prague, offered by a Czech businessman. He organizes supply trips to Lviv, then brings back refugees.

Another grandmother-mother-daughter group (there are many; all the sons of Ukraine are at war) is a family of teachers. The grandmother taught for 60 years before Covid. The mother is also a teacher and speaks very good English. I buy him coffee. We talk as she waits for hours to buy train tickets. She forced her daughter to take textbooks instead of her toys.

One of the few young men I met was around 15, here from outside Chernobyl with his mother. He tells stories of bombings every night except the few days Biden was in Poland. His Russian “friends” deny there is a war; they call him a liar. It’s apparently not uncommon.

He and his mother are on their way to France, to stay with a family that has volunteered to host them. Everyone has their own story. I listened to a lot of crying tonight. It’s emotionally draining. I must keep absolute calm.

I make donations and coordinate deliveries of supplies between runs for refugees who need help. Jonathan and I carried a woman’s bags a few blocks to take her to her friend’s aunt.

Hundreds of refugees have no immediate next destination and are sleeping in the train station. People need to be transported to the makeshift refugee center set up at the Tesco in town. They recently started offering outdoor showers to refugees. It’s under 40 degrees outside. The government did virtually nothing.

A station scene.

Donations help a lot. The greatest supply needs will have to come from increasingly difficult (and expensive) options. The prices keep rising. My efforts for the next week will focus on securing and transporting supplies to refugees on the ground, and getting supplies to our partners in Ukraine who need them. I

It’s 1:30 now. All the trains left for the night. They will start again at 4 am. I have late night shawarma for dinner and crash into a volunteer’s hotel room. I made a lot of new friends today. Will send more updates tomorrow from Warsaw.

(Direct donations can be sent via PayPal and Venmo to: @bmmayer. Brian will give a full account of the funds upon his return. You can follow him on Instagram: @not.my.brand)

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