The Bravery of Everyday People is Saving Lives in Ukraine

Marek Kielanowski and Uliana Yanyshyn joined forces in their effort to save lives. 

Polish Interior designer Marek serves as a member of the Club of Catholic Intelligentsia, an organization dedicated to helping those in need. Marek has worked with the Club to host retreats, scholarships, and to provide emergency relief to people all over the world for over twenty years—and he doesn’t plan on stopping any time soon.  

Uliana is the Director of the Chance for a New Life Foundation in Lviv, Ukraine. Resourceful and determined, Uliana led the evacuation of adults and children with disabilities at the height of the war. Between terrifying airstrikes and limited access to basics like water and power, Uliana needed to get patients to safety. Fate connected her to Marek. 

Marek has helped Ukrainian fighters and refugees for almost nine years. 

Before meeting Uliana in 2022, Marek aided fighters during the 2014 Maidan Revolution. Protests and fights had broken out in Kyiv, and many Poles wanted to help., and many Poles wanted to help. 

Ukrainian doctors needed EKG machines, defibrillators, resuscitation gear and more. Marek and his team organized a charity drive, filled a car with the equipment, and transported everything across the border.  

In Ukraine, Marek helped set up a field hospital for wounded fighters. He coordinated with Polish families to open their homes to Ukrainian soldiers so that they could have a safe place to heal. Afterward, Marek and his team organized summer retreats for the children of fallen Ukrainian soldiers, allowing them to rest, play, and be normal children despite the turmoil back home.

Then, early in 2022, Russia launched a full-scale war on Ukraine. 

"I was in Sri Lanka at the time. From paradise, I returned to hell."

It was chaos. Devastation was everywhere. 

Marek leaped into action. He learned that there was a group of children that needed to be evacuated, but he had a difficult time getting specifics. Eventually, he learned about Uliana, a woman at the forefront of relief efforts in Ukraine.  

Uliana was in the middle of evacuating 150 children from a hospital in Ukraine. Speaking fluent Polish, she was able to coordinate with Marek and other volunteers. “We need to transport 150 children in palliative care,” she said. I’ll be with them at the border the day after tomorrow.” 

“But I don’t have a bus,” Marek replied, stricken. “I don’t know where to put them.” 

“Then I’ll just sit and wait there,” Uliana told him. “I’d rather wait on the Polish border than where they’re dropping bombs. There’s a break between bombings now, so I can get them out.” 

Marek frantically began attempts to coordinate the evacuation process. He made calls day and night. At one point, Marek counted 470 calls in one day, excluding emails and other attempts to reach people. 

Eventually, Marek was able to charter a bus through the Club of Catholic Intelligentsia. During the journey from Warsaw to the Polish-Ukrainian border, Marek thought of how they had managed such a feat with so few resources. He remembered a quote from a Polish film, Promised Land: “You have nothing, I have nothing, and together we’ll build a factory.”  

Powerful help from powerful places 

Once the initial shock of the Russian invasion died down, support from civilians ebbed as well. The crisis became the new normal, so institutions needed to step in. 

The Ukrainian government organized a new group under the Ministry of Social Policy. This group started coordinating the effort to help Ukrainians. They set up hubs for evacuated people, as well as buses for transport and reception centers. 

The First Lady of Poland, Mrs. Agatha Kornhauser-Duda, took interest in the mission. She asked how she could help. 

Marek told her that they needed a safe place for 130 children. Mrs. Kornhauser-Duda spoke to the wife of the German president and arranged a specialist center in Koblenz, Germany where the children would get treatment, the Ukrainian workers would get jobs, and their children would get an education—the whole nine yards. 

To get the children to Germany, Mrs. Kornhauser-Duda organized planes with beds, full medical suites, and doctors. They flew to Koblenz and made sure the children got what they needed. 

Creating a long-term solution for evacuees 

At some point, evacuation efforts began facing difficulties. Marek asked Uliana to reach out to decision-makers and together they organized a conference in Lviv to agree on all evacuation procedures. A combination of Polish and Ukrainian ministers, military leaders, railway chiefs, and high-level government figures attended. PFRON, the Polish State Fund for Rehabilitation for Disabled People, also attended. 

Although mass evacuations ended shortly after, there is now a reliable system for Ukrainians who need to leave. 

“We feel the help we’ve been getting from Poland from day one. They’re the first country that really helped us. And it wasn’t just empty words. We really feel the help from the first day all the way until now. We just have this sense of Poland and Ukraine being family.”

When good people come together, miracles can happen.  

Marek is grateful to have someone like Uliana by his side. “There is nothing she can’t get done. If we need medicine—sure, no problem. Need buses to Switzerland? Here you go. A meeting with the military leader, a minister? Sure.” 

The circumstances are dire. Lives are at stake. Despite how scary it is, everyday heroes keep going. In Marek’s own words, “Trying times can yield great people.” This is why anyone, anywhere, can do what millions have already done: be a source of good for people who need it. 

At the time of his interview, Marek was getting updates from Koblenz—news of children starting to walk. Children who, under previous circumstances, would have never walked again if it weren’t for the intervention of himself, Uliana, and hardworking medical professionals. Words cannot express the enormity of this news. 

“I sometimes get choked up when I talk about it. There were so many instances where we felt this force helping us from above, when hopeless situations suddenly resolved themselves.”

Marek described a force from above. When enough people take a stand, they too can move the world.  

Share this story to help others learn about the horrors Ukrainians are enduring due to Putin’s attacks. Even one small gesture can brighten the searchlight on those in need.  

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About the Campaign

Unify Ukraine is a public service campaign on behalf of the Polish government to raise American awareness of Russia’s ongoing invasion that has torn apart the country and families of Ukraine. Together, we can help free Ukraine from this occupation and unify this beautiful land and people once again.

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