SALT LAKE CITY — One Utah man has made his way to Poland to help Ukrainians after they cross the border.
Michael Kezele, a student at Brigham Young University, joined his friends in renting vans to help shuttle refugees from the border to hotels.
Kezele served a mission for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in England.
Kezele’s mission friend posted on Facebook asking if anyone wanted to come to the border to help Ukrainians.
Kezele, who was spending time in Thailand with his wife’s family, decided to fly over.
By the time Kezele reached Prague on March 5, five people had joined the team — they call themselves “The Happy Band.”
Kezele and their band raised enough money to rent vans, book hotels and drive across Europe to take refugees where they need to go.
For those with no place to go, Kezele said many Latter-day Saints have offered up their homes.
Kezele said they are willing to go to any of the border crossings, but have found the crossing in Poland had the greatest need.
The Happy Band received permission from the Polish government to help refugees.
“I’m seeing a lot of cold, women and children that are just exhausted,” said Kezele.
Many refugees have left behind fathers, brothers and husbands in Ukraine to fight the war — they’re tired, but Kezele said they’re resilient.
“The refugee that I spoke to today — I told her that in the U.S. that we were all standing behind Ukraine,” said Kezele. “She said that meant to the world to her, and she said, 'We’ve decided, as if we’re one mind and one heart, that we have not lost and we will not lose.'”
The small band volunteers used Google Translate to talk with the refugees, especially during long hours across the country.
“The whole trip, we’re just passing the phone back and forth asking each other questions, telling jokes,” said Kezele.
There are countless stories, years of memories made from moments. One, in particular, came when Kezele tried to help a family of six find a stroller.
The band drove the Ukrainian family to Austria. Once they arrived, Kezele said they went across the street to a shopping center and asked a woman selling meats, cheese and ice cream where to buy a stroller.
“She looked past me at the family and looked hopelessly, like, 'I don’t know,'” said Kezele.
As they turned to go, Kezele said the woman called out for them to wait.
The woman then wrapped a big slab of jerky and handed it to the kids along with ice cream cones.
“This woman didn’t know where we could find a stroller. She couldn’t provide housing, she couldn’t provide a job, she couldn’t provide a lot of these big things, but she could give what she had and that was her love,” said Kezele. “I think that’s been the most touching thing I’ve learned while being here.”
So far, donations have allowed Kezele and his team to drive refugees anywhere without the concern of gas, food and hotel costs.
Kezele returns this Wednesday, but their Happy Band will keep going.