North Charleston man volunteers at refugee center in Ukraine


NORTH CHARLESTON, SC (WCSC) – Michael Berdela of North Charleston knew he wanted to do something to help people in Ukraine. He booked a one-way ticket to Poland.

“My parents always taught me that if you are rich, help the poor. If you are strong, help the weak, and if you are free, help those who are not,” Berdela said.

Berdela, a veteran who has deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan, has worked for several weeks at a Ukrainian refugee center in Lesko, Poland, about 30 minutes west of the main border crossing.

He helps with everything they need, from separating clothes and cleaning bathrooms, to transporting refugees to their final destinations. The main objective of the center is to connect refugees with friends, families and sponsors in other countries and to coordinate their transportation there.

“Every volunteer here at some point has cried because it’s really sad,” Berdela said. “We are so lucky in the United States, and nobody realizes it. If you were born there, you won the lottery.

Berdela says the center operates entirely on US donations.

He says he will stay there until his services are no longer needed. He will leave with friendships and a new perspective.

Before leaving the United States, Berdela reached out to Kinga Bryant, who was born in Poland and now lives in Charleston, when he decided he wanted to help. She put him in touch with his family and friends in Poland.

“He just came to me one day and said, ‘I’m going to Poland,'” Bryant said.

When the war started, Bryant’s parents said a family friend opened their home in Poland to seven women and five children who had crossed the border. They needed donations for the necessities as they showed up with just the clothes on their backs.

She posted on Facebook asking for help and got a great response.

She created a Facebook page called “Helping Hearts for Ukraine”. She has since raised $15,000 to buy food, medical supplies and gasoline to drive refugees to their destinations. She says every penny goes directly to people in need.

Bryant said the war reminded him of what it was like growing up in communist Poland.

“When I was little, I remember my grandparents and my great aunts and uncles telling me their stories of being in concentration camps and being invaded by Germany, and just the madness that they went through and how they had to survive and how good people were to them,” Bryant said. “So I felt like it was my time to give that back.”

Bryant and Berdela encourage people to just think about how lucky we are.

“Take a look and so appreciate what you have,” Bryant said. “Because these people around the world have none of that.”

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