Alumni Help Ukrainian Refugees
Submitted on April 28, 2022
Concern for the Ukrainian people during the war with Russia prompted Robert Cornett, ’75, and Linda (Farmer) Cornett, ’77, to travel to the Polish border to offer their help.
Robert, an attorney who studied political science at Georgetown, and Linda, a retired history educator who majored in that discipline while a student here, have both followed the political progression of that part of the world with keen interest. Linda studied in Krakow, Poland, for six weeks in the late 1970s while working on her masters at the University of Kentucky. They both followed the news of the rise of the Solidarity Movement in Poland closely and when the Berlin Wall fell in 1989, Robert felt an inner urge to witness history and came close to flying to see it.
A trip to Poland in 2014 to visit World War 2 sites solidified their respect and appreciation for the Polish people. When the Cornett’s saw the Poles coming to the rescue of Ukrainian war refugees, Robert wanted to help, especially when he saw a news story of an older couple from Copenhagen who were at the border transporting refugees. He was ready to listen to that inner voice this time and started making plans.
Some of his extended family members were against the idea and even Linda—fearing for his safety— was reluctant, but once she knew he was determined, she couldn’t let him go without her. Friends and family donated money and the Cornetts flew out in March, just a few weeks after the invasion started when refugees were flooding the border. “We saw this sovereign nation being invaded and we wanted to be standing shoulder to shoulder with the rest of the world against Putin,” says Robert.
When the Cornett’s arrived they were put to work almost immediately. They purchased supplies in Krakow and delivered them to the border crossing near the village of Medyka, one of eight crossings at the Polish border. There they saw hundreds of people—mostly the elderly, women, and children—walk into Poland with their only belongings clutched in their hands. After being given food and water, the refugees were transported about seven miles away to a shelter in Przemyśl.
During the trip, Linda volunteered at a tent offering supplies for mothers and babies across the border in Ukraine that was organized by a woman from California. Robert kept busy moving goods and people in their rented van. They returned to their Georgetown, Ky., home on March 30th.
But they couldn’t get the needs of the people off their minds, so when a trip abroad was cancelled due to COVID and opened a 10-day block of time in April, Robert returned to Poland, arriving April 15th. By then there was more organization established and he had some difficulty registering as a driver and volunteer since he wasn’t connected to any of the NGOs on site. However, the connections he and Linda had made earlier helped get him approved.
During this trip Robert did whatever was needed: taking a Ukrainian to the hospital for kidney dialysis, transporting refugees to and from the Przemyśl shelter, and buying and picking up requested supplies for shelters from Makro (a warehouse shopping club like Sam’s Club in the USA) and delivering them. Backpacks, suitcases, cookies, and juice drinks were in high demand. At the shelters refugees are taken from a transition room where their immediate needs are met and then sorted into groups according to the destinations to which they are headed such as France, Spain, and Great Britain. As soon as possible they are moved to buses and other forms of transportation so that the shelter’s facilities can be cleaned and readied for new arrivals.
Robert met volunteers from all over the United States and the world while in Poland and though he doesn’t know when he can get back, he is encouraging others to help because the need is still great. He admits to feeling a little down now that he is back in his normal routine where his involvement is limited. When he first thought of going to Poland he feared he might just be in the way, but like everyone else he met there, “It didn’t take long to realize you’re. making a difference. Every time I delivered supplies to the shelters, there was the feeling of getting something moving in the right direction.”
He encourages people to help by donating to organizations directly assisting refugees. He was especially impressed by the work of the Girl Scouts of Poland, the World Central Kitchen, and Caritas Catholic Charity while volunteering. Individuals or groups wanting to know more may contact him through his Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/robert.cornett.353.