WPS Student Spent Spring Break Near Ukraine Border

WPS Student Spent Spring Break Near Ukraine Border
“It is unimaginable to have to suddenly leave one’s entire life and home to flee violence,” said Vanesska Hall of her time near the Ukraine/Slovakia border. Submitted Photo

BERLIN While many students spend Spring Break on the beach in the sun, for Worcester Preparatory School sophomore Vanesska Hall it was much different. She spent her time volunteering on the border of Slovakia and Ukraine, selflessly assisting Ukrainian refugees as they entered into Slovakia escaping from war.

Hall, who is a dual citizen of the United States and Slovakia, traveled to Slovakia during Spring Break in March to visit with her grandfather. Her family’s travel plans kept being postponed for the past two years as a result of COVID, and as their trip neared she was looking forward to spending time with her family and indulging in Slovakian and Hungarian food. However, when Russia invaded Ukraine in late February, Vanesska’s plans quickly changed.

“My family and I were watching on TV in horror as the war unfolded,” she said. “Our hearts were broken seeing the people in Ukraine suffer.”

Given the political situation, family and friends urged Hall and her family not to travel to Slovakia as it borders Ukraine but as the news unfolded, watching Ukrainians flee into neighboring countries, they couldn’t help but feel they needed to do something.

Once arriving in Slovakia, they took a long drive from West of Slovakia to the eastern border with Ukraine and signed up to volunteer with the Greco-Catholic Church in the city of Kosice who were assisting refugees cross the border near the Ukrainian city of Uzhgorod.

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“Their seminarians were working tirelessly, frequently taking over 24-hour shifts, and really needed all the help they could get,” Hall said.

Upon arrival, Hall was assigned to a tent where she greeted Ukrainian refugees with coffee, tea, soup and other necessities needed. As they were arriving by bus or by foot, all they had were the clothes on their back. Only 50 feet away from the tent was Ukrainian soil.

Currently, about 300,000 Ukrainians have passed through Slovakia before being transported to other points throughout Europe.

“Many have no place to go, and no money to take care of themselves. There were women, children, and the elderly who were looking for things like diapers, baby wipes, and personal hygiene items, which we gave to them gladly. Many tried to offer money although all of the items were free. I received a few Ukrainian chocolates from two especially grateful women. It was heartbreaking,” Hall recalled. “It was extremely cold. At times I couldn’t open tea packets because my hands were freezing. It’s a really surreal scene and brought things into perspective for me. I truly saw how lucky we are to live in a safe country. It is unimaginable to have to suddenly leave one’s entire life and home to flee violence.”

In speaking with many of the refugees, Hall noted that many were in shock of what is taking place in their country. It was only a few weeks ago they were living normal lives.

“They’re terrified for their relatives they left behind,” she said.  “Some were crying as they came up to us. They don’t know where they will be going, or when they will be able to return to Ukraine. It’s impossible to tell what will be left of Ukraine when they get back.”

While the unknown is frightening, the Ukrainians were very appreciative for the warm welcome on the Slovak side.

“Many gave exhausted and thankful smiles of relief as they were glad to have finally escaped the violence occurring in their home country,” Hall said. “I am so glad I was able to help and to be a small part in these refugees’ journeys.”