Brian Mayer: Report From Poland

Brian Mayer

Kings Highway Elementary, Bedford Middle and 2006 Hopkins School graduate Brian Mayer is a New York tech executive.

But these days, he’s in Przemsyl, Poland. He’s helping deliver supplies for Ukrainian refugees, and the army.

So far, he’s raised more than $10,000 from friends and family.

Here is Brian’s first report, sent to all who donated:

Writing to you from border with Ukraine. Thank you all for your donations so far.

Fundraising is proving a lot easier than sourcing the supplies needed. We gave out 130+ power banks that you all donated in about 3 minutes flat, and those were the only ones we could even find to buy today.

Tourniquets, power banks, thermal underwear (it’s snowing right now in Poland), and most housing in Poland and elsewhere in the EU are all in short supply. I hear 30,000 people are still coming across the border every day.

A screenshot from Brian Mayer.

Thousands of Ukrainians are going back, too. We hear stories of landlords in Odessa demanding rent, bosses calling people back to work, etc. It’s a fluid situation, with lots of needs on both sides of the border.

There is almost no official supply effort everything is volunteer driven. The train station staff doesn’t speak Russian or Ukrainian, and don’t seem to know anything about where trains are going or how to find buses. This is a tiny border town and is completely overrun. Very few police keeping order. People help friends, and friends coordinate efforts from the inside.

It’s overwhelming being here. It feels like a war zone in itself. We’re waiting now for the next train to come from Lviv — it’s already 7 hours late. When it arrives, an army of volunteers from all over Europe is here to help people find housing, food and medical care. There’s a great team from the UK I’m connected with, a team of Russian language masters students who are all here. One of them is putting me up tonight in their hotel, so I will drive back to Warsaw tomorrow.

My companion today, Jonathan, is a Montreal-based Polish-Canadian documentarian who spent 10 years telling the story of Polish refugees from WWII and where they settled (click here for his doc). He’s making a doc about the refugee crisis here and with Syrians on the border with Belarus, where his family is originally from. It feels like both of us are chasing our family history.

On the phone, a former work colleague of mine in Lviv tells me his wife and children are safe in Poland. He wasn’t worried about their safety in Lviv, but he didn’t want his kids to see what was happening.

“This isn’t just about Ukraine” he tells me, “this is the whole world. If you only knew…it’s so senseless.” He says the biggest needs right now are “dozens” of HD tablets of a certain model needed to work their artillery equipment, and vacuum medical systems for bullet wounds.

I hear that people in Kharkiv are running a civilian brigade. They need humanitarian aid and medicine, especially insulin and injectable pain killers. Refugees crossing the border need power banks to charge their phones to contact their families and find lodging.

Everyone needs something different. We’re trying to source thermal imaging drones right now for the defense effort. All the ones in Europe are sold out.

Another report from Brian.

We’re meeting families who traveled for 3 weeks from the east of the country under heaviest bombardment. This is the second wave of refugees, meaning the ones who survived hell and managed to get out. The first wave got out fast and early; they had money and connections in Europe.

The people in this wave all have stories to tell. A woman, her mother and daughter came from Cherniv where the mother’s cancer clinic was bombed. They had to get to Germany to see a doctor. We put them on a private train bound for Prague, donated by a Czech businessman. It runs supply trips to Lviv, then brings refugees back.

Another grandmother-mother-daughter set (there are lots of these; all the sons of Ukraine are at war) is a family of professors. The grandmother taught for 60 years before Covid. The mother is also a professor, and speaks great English. I buy her coffee. We talk as she waiting for hours to buy train tickets. She made her daughter take school books instead of her toys.

One of the few young men I met was about 15, here from outside Chernobyl with his mother. He tells stories of bombings every night, except the few days when Biden was in Poland. His Russian “friends” are in denial that there’s a war on; they call him a liar. This apparently isn’t uncommon.

He and his mom are on their way to France, to stay with a family that volunteered to host them. Everyone has their own story. I listened to a lot of crying tonight. It’s emotionally draining. I have to keep a calm composure.

I’m fielding donations and coordinating supply drop-offs, in between running errands for refugees who need help. Jonathan and I carried a woman’s bags a couple of blocks to get her to her friend’s aunt.

Hundreds of refugees don’t have immediate next destinations, and sleep in the train station. People need transport to the makeshift refugee center set up at the Tesco in town. They recently started offering outdoor showers to refugees. It’s below 40 degrees outside. The government has done basically nothing.

A scene from the train station.

The donations help tremendously. The most serious supply needs will need to be sourced from increasingly difficult (and expensive) options. Prices keep going up. My efforts for the next week will focus on securing and transporting supplies to refugees on the ground, and getting supplies to our partners in Ukraine who need them. I

It’s 1:30 a.m. now. All of the trains have left for the night. They’ll start again at 4 a.m. I got some late-night shawarma for dinner and am crashing in a volunteer’s hotel room. I made many new friends today. Will send more updates tomorrow from Warsaw.

(Direct donations can be sent via PayPal and Venmo to: @bmmayer. Brian will give a full accounting of funds when he returns. You can follow him on Instagram: @not.my.brand)

2 responses to “Brian Mayer: Report From Poland

  1. Thank you so much for sharing this first hand report. He is a hero to so many in that awful world they are trying to survive in over there.

  2. Thank you to Brian for the great on-the-ground work he is doing and thanks to you Dan for providing the information. It is good to know that a donation can arrive in minutes and be put to use right away vs. given to a larger organization where so much goes to overhead and one is never quite sure if the funds reach their intended group.

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