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Nevada couple saw best and worst of humankind in Ukraine

Russia Ukraine War Day In Photos
AP Photo/Petros Giannakouris
Ukrainian firefighters work at a scene of a destroyed building after shelling in Odesa, Ukraine, Sunday, April 3, 2022.

CARSON CITY, Nev. (AP) — Overwhelming. The best and worst of humankind.

That’s how a Carson City couple described their recent 10-day trip to the “no man’s land” between checkpoints along the Ukraine-Poland border during Russia’s war on Ukraine.

Small business owner Lidia Karasinska met Army veteran Jon Staab in Poland, where she grew up before she immigrated to the U.S. They moved to Carson City a year ago but she says she still has Ukrainian friends living in Poland.

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“It hits very close to home for me,” Karasinska said. “It’s very personal.”

The couple shared their experiences with a number of news outlets upon their return, including the  Nevada AppealKLAS-TV in Las Vegas and  KRNV-TV in Reno. They said they felt obligated to help when they saw the shelling begin in Ukraine.

“I said, ‘Let’s go, let’s roll up our sleeves and help people,’ and that’s exactly what we did,” Staab said. “I felt in my bones we had to go do something.”

The couple dropped everything, took a flight to Poland and started driving toward the Ukrainian border. Once there, they encountered the worst refugee crisis in Europe since World War II.

“It is quite overwhelming to see how much help is needed,” Karasinska said. She added that it was hard to come back to the U.S. “You feel like you didn’t do enough. … You do cry after hours.”

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Since the start of Russia’s war on Ukraine, an estimated 3 million refugees have sought shelter, many crossing the border into Poland.

“I don’t think anything, even words, can describe what’s going on there,” Karasinska said. “Photos can give you a glimpse of what it’s like. Videos can maybe do a better job, but it’s really hard to do so.”

The couple spent more than a week on the ground, taking videos when they could of the thousands of fleeing women and children.

They said they did whatever they could to help the refugees, serving food, comforting people waiting to cross the border and shuttling the wounded to safety. In their 10-day trip, they crossed over the Poland-Ukraine border 19 times.

“(We realized) that no one is on the Ukrainian side, or ‘no man’s land,’ between the two checkpoints. In those lines, people can be staying there for days … with everything they own,” Staab said.

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Staab and Karasinska said they slept in sleeping bags as temperatures at night fell well below freezing.

“There is a really big risk of hypothermia, and actually, 10 children died before we got there,” Karasinska said. “You don’t really think about your own safety when you hear stories like that.”

One family they helped had been struggling to find a ride because they had a German shepherd. It hit home for Staab and Karasinska. They have two dogs of their own, and one is a German shepherd.

Another woman was stuck waiting to cross the border with metal rebar piercing her stomach.

“She had surgeries, a catheter, no pain medicine, and it still took me five hours to get through the border from the very front to the very end,” Staab said.

It spurred him to buy an $11,000 ambulance for organizers like himself and Karasinska who are providing aid along the border.

Upon their return last month, they launched an organization to send more help to the Ukraine-Poland border, the Ukrainian Refugee Rescue. They’re working on getting certified as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit.

“I just never felt so much human sorrow in my life. Just waves and waves of pure agony,” Staab said.

But Karasinska said while they witnessed immense human suffering, the humanitarian response restored her faith in humanity.

“For all the sadness and sorrow that was caused by one person, it also created this huge wave of help,” she said. “There’s so much evil out there but there is so much good.”