Philly Jewish Federation delegation heads to Poland with supplies for Ukrainian refugees

People cross on an improvised path under a bridge that was destroyed by a Russian airstrike, while fleeing the town of Irpin, Ukraine, Saturday, March 5, 2022. What looked like a breakthrough cease-fire to evacuate residents from two cities in Ukraine quickly fell apart Saturday as Ukrainian officials said shelling had halted the work to remove civilians hours after Russia announced the deal.

People cross on an improvised path under a bridge that was destroyed by a Russian airstrike, while fleeing the town of Irpin, Ukraine, Saturday, March 5, 2022. (AP Photo/Vadim Ghirda)

Many people who have watched the Russian invasion of Ukraine from afar have wondered how they can help those fleeing for safety.

For Michael Balaban and Gail Norry, the answer to the question of ‘what can we do,’ was simple.

The two leaders of the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia will travel this weekend to Poland’s border with Ukraine to assist with the refugee effort there.

Balaban, the federation’s president and CEO, and Norry, co-chair of its board of directors, are traveling with a small delegation from the Jewish Federations of North America. The group will be in the region for about 48 hours, spending time meeting refugees and humanitarian aid workers.

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Balaban said he takes the responsibility seriously and will do what he can to help those in need. He’s packing the two duffel bags he’s allowed with a variety of things, including personal hygiene items, socks, gloves, coats, and children’s toys.

“People fled out with what they could carry, and our ability to assist them at this very desperate time is vital,” he said.

The group will fly from Newark, New Jersey, to Warsaw, then travel to the border. Once they arrive, they’ll assist aid workers and hear from those who have fled their homes as the result of Russia’s invasion. The group hopes to give refugees a voice by sharing their stories.

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Balaban reflected on the group’s landing at Warsaw, citing the city’s role in 1942, when it was home to Nazi-run concentration and extermination camps. That history stands in stark contrast to Warsaw today as the place where refugees flock to safety.

He expects there will be some Holocaust survivors among the refugees who have experienced multiple traumas in their lifetimes.

While the group is soliciting donations, Balaban said those interested in helping with relief efforts can choose from a number of worthwhile aid groups to support.

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