Welcoming Ukrainian Refugees: 13 Stories That Will Renew Your Faith in Humanity
Instead of waiting to figure out the "right" way to help, these people jumped into action to help Ukrainian refugees in the most beautiful ways
A refugee crisis of epic proportions
More than 8 million people have fled Ukraine since Russia’s invasion began in February 2022, and another 6 million have been forced from their homes and internally displaced in Ukraine. The majority of Ukrainian refugees are women and children, and they’re part of what the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees has called the fastest-growing refugee crisis in Europe since World War II. In the early months of the Ukraine-Russia war, one Ukrainian child became a refugee every second.
Nearly 60% of these Ukrainian refugees have gone to nearby Poland. Hungary, Slovakia, Moldova and Romania have also taken in large numbers of people fleeing the war. Meanwhile, Europe has offered to take in more, and President Biden announced last year that the United States would “welcome Ukrainian refugees with open arms.”
One year into the Ukraine war, there still isn’t an end in sight. But people all over the world have been doing extraordinary things—big and small—to aid, comfort and protect refugees. War brings out the worst in people, but it also provides an incredible opportunity to showcase the best of humanity. We’ve rounded up some of the most heartwarming stories of how people are welcoming Ukrainian refugees and how you can help Ukraine right now.
An American man finds shelter for families fleeing with pets
American Aaron Jackson didn’t go to the Poland-Ukraine border with the intention of helping refugee families with pets, but the animal lover (and founder of the nonprofit Planting Peace) quickly found his calling. He was speaking with the director of an animal shelter when a family with a cocker spaniel approached.
The director explained that they were Ukrainian refugees who wanted to give their dog to the shelter because they were homeless and didn’t want their dog to be out in the cold. Jackson leaped into action, and within 20 minutes, he’d found the family pet-friendly housing that would take them and pup Bella.
“You have these families who have traveled 100 miles, 200 miles, to get to the border, and they’ve walked 50 of those miles with a dog on their back,” Jackson told the Dodo. “So if a person is willing to do that for their dog … I’m going to try to do anything in my power to get them into housing with their pet—especially since they’ve already given up so much already.”
A German family welcomes a Ukrainian family, no questions asked
Distance was no obstacle for Karsten, a German man who drove 11 hours from Frankfurt to the Polish border with one goal in mind: find a family of Ukrainian refugees to help. He held up a simple sign offering “transfer and accommodation,” and within an hour, he was bringing Bulia Muhammad and her children to his home.
“We have watched what’s happening. We have seen the pictures on TV, my daughter and me, and we said, ‘This is so horrible.’ We want to make a small contribution, however small it may be,” he told the National News. “But we believe it could make a difference.”
Chefs provide meals at the Ukrainian border
As soon as Spanish-American chef José Andrés saw the news about the Russian invasion of Ukraine, he jumped into action, loading trucks full of food. He had previously set up his charity organization, World Central Kitchen, for exactly this type of situation. He and his team of chefs and volunteers bring meals to survivors of all types of disasters, both natural and man-made.
“We are supporting Ukrainian refugees along the border and in Warsaw, Krakow and other cities. We will be next to them as long as we are needed.” His Twitter bio sums up his stance and offers advice for other would-be do-gooders: “We all are Citizens of the World. What’s good for you must be good for all. If you are lost, share a plate of food with a stranger … you will find who you are.”
A stranger safely delivers two young refugee children to safety
A Ukrainian father was desperate to find a way to get his two children across the border to safety, but he was unable to leave the country himself—men are required to stay and fight. His prayers were answered through Nataliya Ableyeva.
“Their father simply handed over the two kids to me, and trusted me, giving me their passports to bring them over,” Ableyeva told Reuters. They were strangers, but as a mother, Ableyeva understood the man’s heartbreak and immediately agreed, taking care of the children in Poland until their mother arrived. It’s just one more example of Ukrainian mothers, sisters and wives showing strength in the face of tragedy.
A woman helps rescue a Ukrainian family whose grandmother saved her grandmother from the Holocaust
Fanya Bass survived the Holocaust because Maria Blishchik hid the young Jewish girl in Ukraine. Both women have since passed away, but the heroic act created a lifelong bond between their families.
So when Blishchik’s two granddaughters fled Ukraine, Bass’s granddaughter arranged for their safe passage and welcomed them with open arms to her home in Israel. Bass’s granddaughter told Israel’s Channel 13 that she had visited her grandmother’s grave to ask for intervention from above to make sure the rescue was a success.
Polish mothers provide strollers for fleeing Ukrainian mothers with tiny tots
Pictures of abandoned strollers left in the mud by fleeing refugees are a stark reminder of just how dire the situation is for Ukrainian women and children, many still young enough to need to be carried in their mothers’ arms. This adds one more layer of exhaustion for the women, who often leave their homes with nothing but the clothes they are wearing.
Recognizing a unique need, Polish mothers started leaving strollers on train platforms and at border crossings to make things just a little bit easier for the refugees. It’s the sort of small act of charity and comfort that mothers so selflessly provide, no matter their nationality.
Italian children greet new Ukrainian classmates with cheers and hugs
Walking into a new school is nerve-racking in the best circumstances, but when you have lost everything and need to relocate to a different country, it’s downright terrifying. To help allay anxiety, Italian kids welcomed Ukrainian refugee classmates with clapping, cheering, singing, signs and hugs. The viral video shows the two kids stepping nervously into the school only to be overwhelmed by the amazing welcome.
Children make up a large portion of Ukrainian refugees, and an unknown number are unaccompanied, leaving them vulnerable to atrocities that violate basic human rights.
Missionaries volunteer as free translators
Missionaries from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, also known as Mormons, may be best known for knocking on doors in suits and ties. But the multinational missionaries have another talent: speaking many languages, including Ukrainian.
As soon as they heard about the Ukraine-Russia war, European missionaries jumped in, volunteering as translators and guides at train stations and border crossings. There, they hold up large signs showing the languages they speak and what they can do to help incoming refugees get oriented and connected with resources.
A German school opens additional classes just for Ukrainian children
The Waldorf elementary school in Chemnitz, Germany, welcomed so many refugee children that it decided to create two new classes just for the Ukrainian students. They still share activities and meals with their German classmates, but this allows them to learn under Ukrainian teachers and stay close to their community.
“We wanted the children to be able to quickly enter into a certain normality, to feel welcome here in this foreign country,” the director of the school said in a video. In doing so, they’re showing kids that acts of kindness can make the world a better place.
A Polish town sacrifices to take in more refugees
Medyka, a small Polish town near the Ukraine border, has become the largest crossing for refugees fleeing the violence. Even though the townspeople have little themselves, they are determined to welcome as many Ukrainian refugees as need help and share whatever they have, proving even small acts of kindness make a difference.
They started by converting their town recreational center into a temporary hotel, holding 250 beds. “These refugees have lost almost everything. We need to help them. Even if that means we’ll have to learn to live with less,” town mayor Marek Iwasieczko told the UN Refugee Agency.
Germans open their homes to fleeing families
The biggest and most immediate need for Ukrainian refugees is finding somewhere safe to go. Thousands of Germans heard that plea and rushed to the border to offer shelter. It wasn’t an organized effort, just something that many people felt in their hearts they needed to do.
To overcome the language barrier, they made simple signs: “Big room. One–three people. Children welcome too! For as long as you want.” And another: “2 adults, 3 children home.” Just as Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky is redefining leadership, everyday people around the world are redefining what it means to be human in a 21st-century war.
Romanian teens set up a coffee-and-food stand at the border
To help refugees feel welcome in Romania, a group of Romanian youth in the border town of Siret set up a stand offering hot drinks and meals. The group, whose name roughly translates to “Association for Tomorrow’s Generation,” worked nonstop in the early days of the war to keep the little stand up and running despite freezing conditions.
It may seem like a small thing compared with some of the larger charity operations, but for those refugees, a warm drink and a smile meant everything. Teens are doing great things all over the world: Here’s how one 17-year-old is feeding thousands of homeless people in the United States.
The entire city of Oslo, Norway, lights up to welcome Ukrainian refugees
Shortly after the invasion, Ukrainian refugees who found their way to Norway (about a 33-hour trip) received a warm welcome. Signs in airports and train stations read in Ukrainian that anyone who wanted to flee to Oslo would get a free ticket there.
When they arrived, they saw City Hall and other public buildings lit in yellow and blue. Oslo was serious about being a safe haven for those who needed it. “The City has donated 10 mill NOK [Norwegian krone] to humanitarian aid and prepares to welcome refugees,” the city leaders tweeted.
- The Dodo: “Guy Helps Ukrainian Family Find Safe Haven So They Don’t Have to Give Up Their Dog”
- The National News: “Meet the German volunteer who is driving Ukrainians to safety”
- Reuters: “At the Ukrainian border, a mother brings a stranger’s children to safety”
- Jewish Press: “Ukrainian Righteous Gentile’s Grandchildren Saved by Israeli Grandchild of Holocaust Survivor”
- Snopes: “Were Strollers Left at Poland Train Station for Ukraine Refugees?”
- The Church of Jesus Christ Latter-day Saints: “Members of the Church in Europe provide relief and help to refugees”
- United Nations Refugee Agency: “Polish border town welcomes refugees from Ukraine, but will itself need help”