North Charleston man volunteering at Ukraine refugee center

Published: Mar. 30, 2022 at 2:52 PM EDT|Updated: Mar. 30, 2022 at 7:21 PM EDT
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NORTH CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - Michael Berdela of North Charleston knew he wanted to do something to help people in Ukraine. He booked a one-way ticket to Poland.

“My parents always taught me, if you’re rich help out the poor. If you’re strong help out the weak, and if you’re free, help out those that aren’t,” Berdela said.

Berdela, a veteran who has been deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan, has been working for several weeks at a Ukrainian refugee center in Lesko, Poland, which is about 30 minutes west of the main border crossing.

He helps with whatever they need, from separating clothing and cleaning bathrooms, to transporting refugees to their final destinations. The center’s main objective is to connect refugees with friends, families, and sponsors in other countries and coordinate their transportation to get there.

“Every volunteer here at some point has cried because it’s really sad,” Berdela said. “We just are so lucky in the U.S., and nobody realizes it. If you’re born there, you’ve won the lottery.”

Berdela says the center runs fully off of U.S. donations.

He says he will stay there until his services are no longer needed. He’ll be leaving with friendships and a new perspective.

Before leaving the U.S., Berdela reached out to Kinga Bryant, who was born in Poland and now lives in Charleston, when he decided he wanted to help. She connected him to her family and friends in Poland.

“He just came up to me one day and was like, ‘I’m gonna go to Poland,’” Bryant said.

When the war started, Bryant’s parents said a family friend opened up their home in Poland to seven women and five children who crossed the border. They needed donations for necessities since they showed up with just the clothes on their backs.

She posted on Facebook asking for help, and received a big response.

She created a Facebook page called “Helping Hearts for Ukraine.” She has since raised $15,000 for food, medical supplies, and gasoline to drive refugees to their destinations. She says every penny goes directly to people that need it.

Bryant said the war is reminding her of what it was like growing up in communist Poland.

“When I was a little girl, I remember my grandparents and my great aunts and uncles telling me their stories of being in the concentration camps and being invaded by Germany, and just the craziness that they went through and how they had to survive and how people were good to them,” Bryant said. “So, I felt like this was my time to return that.”

Both Bryant and Berdela are encouraging people to simply reflect on how lucky we are.

“Take a look around and be so appreciative of what you have,” Bryant said. “Because these people across the world have none of that.”

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