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Hope College student has firsthand look at Ukrainian refugee crisis

Grace Brown is studying in Poland this spring; the nation is taking about half of Ukraine's displaces refugees
Posted at 6:17 PM, Mar 14, 2022
and last updated 2022-03-14 19:40:27-04

WXMI — Already, close to 3-million Ukrainian refugees have fled their war-torn nation in search of safer ground, many of them to Poland. In fact, the neighboring nation has accepted almost half the sum of refugees that have fled Ukraine.

Hope College junior Grace Brown is getting a front row seat to the devastating piece of history. The public accounting major from Grand Rapids is abroad as part of the John Paul II Project, a program that allows students to study and participate in ministry. The facility housing Grace in Krakow is now also being used to house a seemingly endless flow of refugees.

“It’s all women and children,” said Grace, speaking to FOX17 on a Zoom call Monday. “Their husbands are not able to make it over the border because they’re recruiting them to fight.”

After some scheduling setbacks caused by the pandemic, Grace arrived in Krakow on February 10th. Almost two weeks later, on February 24th, Russia invaded Ukraine. Since then, Grace says the number of refugees coming into their sanctuary hasn’t slowed at all.

In between studying, and through the difficulty of language barriers, Grace has tried to learn the stories of the refugees she’s sharing a home with.

“A lot of people have very broken English and I know no Ukrainian, so I’m only getting bits and pieces,” she said. “We’ve got all the little kids from these families running around our halls, they’re playing outside the window right now.”

All around Krakow, Grace has been seeing signs of support for Ukraine and its people.

“Flags are all over downtown Krakow with Ukrainian support, it’s been beautiful to see all that,” she said. “I feel like I see more Ukrainian flags than Polish flags right now. It’s just so much support for them.”

Even in the midst of a perilous time in Europe’s history – something Grace acknowledges – she’s trying to bank memories and be a part of it in a positive way.

“Really soak in that time to get to know people and see this experience firsthand,” she said. “You usually hear these stories, you don’t see it.”