Car reservation

Sevastopol’s neighbors made extra efforts to help Ukrainian refugees

For 30 years, neighbors David Schneider and John Namkung have talked over the fence in their quiet, shady neighborhood in Lone Pine Village on the southern end of Sevastopol. They celebrated children’s birthdays, nodded as they took out the recycling and stared warily at the smoke from the wildfires together.

Their interaction on April 8 was a little different. That day, Namkung took his old acquaintance to the Medyka border post, on the Polish side of his border with Ukraine, and showed him around the Korczowa refugee reception center, a converted shopping mall that serves as a temporary refuge for thousands of people. fleeing the Russian invasion.

It was Schneider’s first day in Poland and one of Namkung’s last. Between them, the two retirees — Schneider, 71, is a psychologist; Namkung, 74, was director of special education for Santa Rosa City Schools – reportedly spending nearly a month on the outskirts of a war, ferrying beleaguered families to safety.

“It really was like one candle lighting another,” Schneider said Thursday, sitting in his living room on Bing Tree Way with his wife, Dana, and still wearing the plastic wristband that identified him as a registered volunteer.

Both flames still seemed to be burning as the pair spoke of their recent experiences and their desire to do more to help Ukrainian refugees.

“I feel like my body is here in the United States, but my heart is in Poland and Ukraine,” Namkung said from Kauai, Hawaii, where he was marking his 50th wedding anniversary with wife Dianne – a celebration delayed for a year by the COVID pandemic, and for a week by John’s work in Poland.

This was not Namkung’s first overseas humanitarian trip. He traveled to Greece in 2016 to help Syrian refugees, then in 2019 to teach English to displaced Yazidis.

In Poland, he saw the same kind of suffering in ordinary people forced into a harrowing escape, and the same instinct in parents to do whatever they could to protect their children. There was a difference this time, however. Unlike the Greek camps, 90% of Ukrainian refugees were women or children.

Namkung set up a GoFundMe to raise money for a non-profit organization called type of wood and kept a daily blog about his experiences Poland. The Schneiders were on a short trip to Tahoe when David started reading Namkung’s account. He knew in an instant where he was heading.

“Within 24 hours, I think you had everything booked,” Dana Schneider said, looking at her husband. “I’ve never seen you make such an immediate decision about something.”

David Schneider will also work with Type of Wood. (The organization is Mormon, although none of Sevastopol’s neighbors are Latter-day Saints.) And he, too, would blog and establish a GoFundMe for the type of wood.

Their digital diaries are a window into the anxiety, desperation, pugnacity and unexpected humor they encountered on their journeys, mostly from the border town of Korczowa in the west to Krakow and back, a a route that Namkung compared to straight, unremarkable stretches of I-5. through the San Joaquin Valley.

John Namkung, March 28

I’m about to give up and start looking for safe areas to stop when I spot an old gas station. The sign isn’t on and it looks closed, but I see a light in the office and walk in. What a strange and disturbing gas station – all but one of the pumps don’t even work. They are made of wood to look like pumps! An old man and his wife are in the office, and he proceeds to fill the tank with the only real pump while I almost cry with joy and relief.

David Schneider, April 11

(Dimas) said the war started on his birthday. They drove from Kyiv and it took them 28 hours to get to the border, usually a 9 hour journey. They then waited 12 hours, outside, all night, in the windy rain and the cold, to cross Poland on foot.

John Namkung, April 2

(Denis, 11) talked nonstop during the three-hour drive to Krakow. He spoke a little English and from time to time he would say: “John, you are cool. Several times he said, “My mom likes your car. And towards the end of the ride, he said, “My mom loves your car and if you want to give it to her as a present, she’d be very happy.”

David Schneider, April 11

Luba on the far right in the photo gives me a big hug and whispers in my ear: You came all the way from California to take me to the train station. American. You do this. I like You. Thank you.

Every day brought new logistical challenges: missing reservations, translation issues, changing needs.

“It was really learning how to skydive by jumping out of an airplane and reading the parachute instructions on the way down,” Schneider said Thursday.