Friends (and family):  As some of you already know, I am in Poland, specifically Warsaw headed to outside Krakow, volunteering to address the Ukrainian refugee problem as best I can. 

This crazy notion began to form about four weeks or so ago, as I watched news reports of Putin’s and Russia’s outrageous and criminal actions in Ukraine. When a team was sent to extract President Zelensky just after the Russian invasion (and attack on Kyiv), they received the now-famous quote from Zelensky: “I don’t need transportation, I need ammunition…”  As a student of European history, it struck me that we were at a historic, once-a-century juncture, and doing nothing was not an option for me. I was also at a fortunate point in my law practice and family obligations so I could take 3 or 4 months away, working on only very urgent client issues remotely.

I guess riding a bicycle over 400 miles last fall in upstate New York and around Vermont just didn’t quite satisfy the thirst for adventure I must be feeling before I turn 65! The old Warren Zevon Cold War-tangential song goes: “Send Lawyers, Guns and Money!” Since it would be soldiering malpractice for me to go into Ukraine with a gun, drone, or even bow and arrow, and even if the money is not ample, I can certainly self-fund my efforts and last time I checked, I’m still licensed at the bar. The State Bar, that is.

My initial thought was pretty simple and naïve: head to Poland and then find a group to work with, even if it was only handing out water bottles, or cooking food, or washing pots and pans, or doing anything to help, while resolving to return home the minute I was just getting in the way, or taking up valuable resources needed by the Poles or refugees, or mere furniture. Kathy and I had purchased tickets to go to Greece and Italy this coming fall, so I asked my travel agent to use part of my ticket to re-book to go to Warsaw by early April. I also started researching as deeply as I could the Ukrainian refugee problem, who was on the ground addressing it, what the Poles (and Romanians, and other adjoining countries) needed, and how I might be helpful as a volunteer. 

My research on immigration and State Department issues took me to Congressman (Pete) Sessions’ Waco office. A staff-member there who was focused on immigration issues, Carolina, was a fantastic help—just the preceding day she had been helping someone at the last minute get a passport expedited, a volunteer with a group called Unbound, based in Waco but with a growing domestic and world-wide mission to fight the human-trafficking problem. Unbound is faith-based and has very strong values and leadership. Both of us agreed there are no mere coincidences. Next, she put me in touch with that volunteer, who then put me in touch with the person coordinating their Poland efforts, and pretty soon I am also in contact with Unbound’s impressive executive director, Susan Peters. After several conversations, a written application, a background check, I am now in Poland to work with and support their incoming teams of four who will be on the front lines interfacing with Ukrainian refugees and there is some thought I will also be training staff and volunteers with other refugee organizations (NGOs etc.) who are providing the basics (food, shelter, clothing, etc.), and who are asking for just this sort of training—maybe I might have a bit of skill giving public presentations, we might see. 

Some Facts About the Refugee Crisis and Human Trafficking 

I’ll come back to Unbound some more below, but I want to share some of what I have learned about the Ukraine refugee crisis so far, and how Poland has stepped up in a huge and heroic way.  With the sudden influx of refugees from Ukraine flowing into Poland, many humanitarian organizations and the Polish government (and adjoining countries) moved quickly to address the basic needs millions of refugees had as they fled Ukraine. Because they hoped to return home, huge numbers wanted to stay in Poland or at least Europe. In Warsaw alone families have taken in hundreds of thousands. At first the Polish government did not want to have refugee “camps,” as we’ve seen form with other humanitarian crises. But eventually several refugee centers were established on the Polish border, East of Krakow. These did and are doing a fantastic job of providing train tickets, diapers, water, food and shelter. However, the criminal syndicates saw the refugee influx as a huge trafficking opportunity. That is where Unbound steps in, sending teams to the border and refugee centers performing education to refugees on what to look for when offered a ride or shelter or food by a lone wolf driver; the Unbound teams also work to interrupt what may be likely trafficking situations. I include next a narrative from the last Team just returned to Texas

Team 4 Report

This is from most recent returning Unbound Team. I am meeting up with next incoming team next Wednesday.  The following explains the situation far better than I ever could:

From Team 4: I am still processing all that our team experienced on our recent trip to the Poland/Ukraine border. Before leaving, I had a few expectations of what we might experience in a war torn crisis situation, but upon arrival I was continually blown away by the beautiful spirit of the Ukrainian people. In the middle of their desperation and deep pain of seeing their country torn apart they carried a visible strength and joy. The love for their country was indescribable. One day while we were on the Ukraine side of the border, I witnessed a scene I will never forget. Refugees standing in line spontaneously started singing the Ukrainian National Anthem. It was a very sacred moment; the reverent silence spread across the entire area as they sang. Even up until their last steps across the border into Poland, they were proudly declaring their love for their home.

While Team 3 was there, waves of refugees arrived at the border from South Eastern Ukraine where the most recent bombings had occurred. They had traveled days from their war-torn cities, leaving everything behind—even their families. All that was with them were the bags they could carry. As we communicated with refugees waiting in line to cross the border, you could hear the depth of their pain, see the effects of trauma, and feel the sense of utter desperation.

This desperation is what leads to human trafficking vulnerability. Ukrainian refugees are desperate for a safe place to stay, a ride to reach their next destination, or even just someone to help them understand what the journey is like and how to cross the border. Women and children are easy targets to traffickers who can offer to meet these needs. This is where Unbound is helping; passing out “travel safely” cards and educating migrants on the red flags that indicate an unsafe situation.  

During our trip, myself and a teammate, Waco-based Detective Joseph Scarramucci, [walked into an area] that was clearly a transportation hub, filled with Ukrainians getting in and out of buses, vans, and other vehicles. Refugees figuring out how to get across the border without knowledge of how the process works are most vulnerable to the tactics of exploiters. These transition points are places we know bad actors target people in need.

As we walked down the street observing our surroundings, something didn’t feel right as we walked by a well put together by a woman who was talking with three women and asking for their travel documents, including their passport information. We approached these women and with the help of our translator began to ask them about the context of the conversation. They shared that they had been promised transportation over the border, connection to a driver in Poland in exchange for a fee and agreeing to carry a bag across with them. They had given the woman their passports and had already paid.

We immediately pulled the three women aside and indicated that this was a trafficking situation. The woman had lied to them about the cost to cross to the border, there is no fee; she lied about needing their travel documents, only the border agents need to see them; she lied about having a verified driver; only certain drivers who are registered with proper documentation can pick people up on the other side.

We walked with these women to the line to cross the border, continuing to tell them not to trust this woman and what she is saying. Shortly thereafter the woman trafficker became frustrated and realized we had intercepted the attempt and she ran off. We were able to get pictures and run some history on this particular individual which confirmed her involvement with the human trafficking world. After she left and we were able to communicate more freely with these women, one said, “As soon as you walked up and handed us your card, I knew my gut was right and this was a sign from God that we shouldn’t go with that woman.” Another said, “I am just so thankful you showed up. We didn’t know anything, we didn’t know what to do.” Because of our presence at the border we were able to prevent these three women and their children from being trafficked that day.

In addition to having intentional conversations with refugees crossing over the border, our team handed out thousands of information cards to refugees as they waited in line. These cards have a human trafficking hotline number specific to Poland and basic tips to avoid becoming a human trafficking victim. Tips like the information we shared with the three women.  

Our team was also able to establish and strengthen some key foundational partnerships with other organizations, law enforcement, and governmental leaders that will continue to help establish the work of Unbound in Eastern Europe. To protect more women and children Unbound’s presence must scale quickly through ongoing teams and increased local partnerships. Humanitarian aid organizations from all over the world are coming together to work collaboratively in providing for the needs of Ukrainian refugees.

It was an absolute honor to serve at the Poland/Ukraine Border. Whether we were providing human trafficking prevention materials, meeting with key partners, or just offering small acts of kindness like holding a women’s baby, changing a diaper, or getting them food or a stroller, our team was constantly meeting the next need and loving the next person. Reducing vulnerabilities and increasing empowerment to recognize the tactics of trafficking is essential work that does make a difference.   

It was such an honor to hear the stories and see the challenges these refugees have overcome. It has shifted my perspective and increased my hope to see the strength and determination of the Ukrainian people and the responsiveness of our community to give and send Unbound to serve and protect. Tragic circumstances can’t change the fact that love is a universal language and God’s love is certainly on the move in Eastern Europe.

To read more about our trip from news coverage at this link: KWTX covers Detective Scarramucci’s Trip to Poland

George Young continues: So I have picked up my rental car in Warsaw and head to Krakow tomorrow, meeting our next incoming team Wednesday, when we will then head to one of several refugee centers near the Ukraine border. While some refugees are starting to return to Ukraine, there is still outflow into Poland that requires multiple efforts. 

Good Friday in Warsaw

Three days ago following dinner at a restaurant I saw this huge throng (thousands) holding what was a parade or march down one of the main streets of Warsaw, starting in front of the church. I was told it was a Good Friday service honoring the Stations of the Cross (with crucifix and all). Beautiful singing and liturgy as the procession proceeded past the Hotel Bristol and ended in the Old Town Square of Warsaw. FYI—the Hotel Bristol was built as a beautiful hotel at the end of the 19th century, and then was taken over as Nazi headquarters during the occupation of Poland. Incredibly stirring Good Friday sights. There were dual flags on every lamppost and the Ukraine flag carried by the procession—it is impossible to overstate how big the Polish people have stepped up.

Forming an Eastern European-based NGO

Unbound has decided to open an Eastern European office long-term, and to form a Poland-based NGO that would be recognized by the EU (which brings several other advantages). I am talking to Warsaw lawyers about that process, and starting to scout office space in either Poland or Krakow for their future offices.

How I Navigate the Language Issues

Some of you have asked how I am navigating the Polish language issues (apparently the third-most-difficult language in the world to learn); but this has not been a problem. Any time I get into an Uber, talk to lawyers, need something at the hotel, or order in a restaurant, my 64-year-old brain tells me I am in a foreign country—I cannot use English, so I speak Spanish (learned from my South America studies), and if that does not work, I just speak English slowly and loudly. No problem. What Ugly American? Seriously, I have picked up from [the language site] Babbel a few rudimentary Polish phrases, and many Poles (and Ukrainians) speak English, even if not my slow English. Wait until they hear my Polish In Krakow—just what we need, another international incident! Thank goodness we have Google translate, and a smart phone that I can just show to bewildered Poles all over.

90 Days and Then Perhaps On To Romania

I do not know how long I will be in Poland doing this. As Unbound asks me to perform various tasks, I will do them. But one can only stay in Poland 90 days without a visa, so in mid-July I will either return home, or head over to Romania, where the refugee crisis has also forced a large number of Ukrainians across their border.

So stay tuned,
Your friend:  George Parker Young