In this special edition of our People Stories, we chat with Olena Shkriabko – Associate – Agency Product Support at Sabre Poland, who drove for three days, covering 3000 km to deliver goods for people in need in Odesa, Ukraine. Olena shares her personal story and some advice on how to help people impacted by the war.

1. These are hard times for people in Ukraine and the region. You and your husband drove for three days, covering 3000 km to deliver goods for people in Odessa. Kudos to your effort. What motivated you to make this decision?

Since the war began my husband and I have always been in touch with our relatives and friends. The very first two days we were calling and writing to friends all over Ukraine to ask how did they feel and how the situation was. On Friday night (February 25) my older brother called and told me that they had heard some shootings in Odessa. That call made my blood run cold. The whole weekend we didn’t sleep at all, I was giving my best to support people in Ukraine.

Next day I read in the news that people and volunteers from over the world were helping Ukraine, and the mainstream was the road Poland – Ukraine. Odesa is located 850 km from Lviv, the city in Ukraine next to the border of Poland. I was certain that help would not reach Odessa soon and there was a threat that the city would be occupied and my family would be cut off from the food supply.

The same day I got a call from my younger brother, and I asked him how we could help them. The following day I shared the email among my colleagues and asked for support. Sabre team members were ready to help and till Friday we were collecting goods and donations to be ready to start our trip on Saturday morning.

2. What was the situation like when you traveled – since the dynamics on the ground kept changing so often?

On Saturday at 10 we set off, at night we reached the hotel in Romania and next day our aim was the border of Ukraine. The trip was through the borders of Romania – Moldova – Ukraine, the least traffic ones. We should have reached Ukraine as soon as possible because my older brother should have got home till 19 (the time before curfew). I saw my brother only for 10 minutes, he and his friends took goods and I turned back.

For four hours I was waiting in a queue, while my friend with her 5 years old son was waiting at a petrol station for me. At 10 PM we went through all the borders and reached the hotel in the city Galati, Romania. The rest of the trip we did on the following day, on Monday. We arrived on Tuesday at 4 AM, we needed to get as soon as possible Krakow, since my 5 years old son was living those three days with our friends.

3. Crossing three countries during the trip, what was the sentiment among people you came across?

While waiting in a queue to cross the borders I saw women with children. I was helping them to carry luggage from one border to another. All of them were exhausted and upset. At that moment I was thinking “How difficult it should be to pack all your life in a backpack and flee”.

4. What material did you manage to deliver and how does it reach people who need the aid?

We managed to buy and collect boots, thermal underwear, socks, glasses, gloves, and a lot of dry food. My older brother shared the goods among our family and friends, went to the Orphan House, gave some food to a cook.

5. What can others do in their personal capacities to help during this time?

When my younger brother heard that we had delivered goods for him and his peers, he thanked from the bottom of his heart. It cheered and motivated him. I believe helping and supporting people in need is what we all can do.

6. What advice do you have on how other people can pitch in?

I would advise all of us to be patient with refugees, help them with the integration into a new reality, support them with the goods they need on a daily basis and keep the tone positive.