While stuck in traffic driving on I-95 to his Wednesday night class at the Beasley School of Law, Joe Hogan turned on his car radio, where he heard more news about the Ukrainian refugee crisis following Russia’s invasion.
Hogan, a student in Temple’s juris doctor law program, called his friend and classmate, Patrick Long, and asked how they could help. That night, the two booked a flight along with Hogan’s wife to Warsaw, Poland, that left three days later on March 5 and returned on March 11.
“We went in just wanting to help however we could,” Hogan said.
Even with a language barrier, the personal connections both Long and the Hogans made with individuals from Poland and Ukraine inspired them to help refugees beyond distributing goods.
On Feb. 24, Russia began a military invasion of Ukraine, forcing more than 3.7 million people to flee the country. It is considered the fastest-growing refugee crisis in Europe since World War II, and more than half of the nearly four million people who have fled, have sought refuge in Poland, according to the International Rescue Committee.
When Janita Hogan, a senior scientist at Merck and Joe’s wife, first learned her husband wanted to spend his spring break in Poland amid the crisis, she was shocked, but knew he wouldn’t take no for an answer.
“This is perfectly in line with who he is as a person,” Janita said. “He sees people struggling, and he wants to go help.”
After arriving in Poland, the three drove a rental car three hours to Dorohusk, a village in eastern Poland at the border with Ukraine, where they met up with other volunteers and organizations to distribute supplies like food, baby items, blankets and coffee to refugees.
“We are a lot more alike than we’re different, and we really saw that on the border,” Long said.
After spending two days handing out food and other supplies to refugees, they quickly became aware of the housing crisis, noticing many individuals were forced to withstand sub-freezing temperatures without proper clothing and shelter.
“How can we put up money to build something so that they’re not just in refugee camps, or they’re not being warehoused in empty grocery stores, or things like that,” Joe said.
They knew the simple solution was to build more housing, but that requires time and money.
Since returning to Philadelphia, the three have collected roughly $25,000 in donations to aid in funding housing for refugees.
To ensure they reached out to the right people and organizations in Philadelphia, Joe and Long spoke with John Smagula, assistant dean for graduate and international programs at Beasley.
Smagula recommended they contact Iryna Mazur, the honorary consul for Ukraine in Philadelphia, to learn more about initiatives they could participate in to aid in their housing efforts. He admires their work and hopes their actions encourage others to help in any way they can.
“I’m hoping that students will be inspired, both to assist in the Ukrainian efforts, but also to look at other opportunities in the same area where they can make a difference, and bring that passion and bring that motivation for social justice here as well,” Smagula said.
Long and Joe are also working with Polish attorneys to better understand the logistics of funding housing opportunities in Poland, like ensuring the donations they collect go to the right organizations.
“It would have been easy for us to go over there as an American, just throw money on the table and say, ‘We’re gonna sign this lease to bring these people in here so that they’re safe,” Joe said. “And really, it’s a lot more challenging than that, to do it right, to do it properly, and to do it sustainably, and so recognizing those potential pitfalls, we were able to ask the right questions.”
Long, Joe and Janita plan to return to Poland this summer to continue supporting those in need and provide safer housing options.
While the two had no direct ties to Poland or the Ukraine, they wanted to use their degrees and help those who could not help or support themselves.
“I have nothing but respect for these people, and that’s part of the reason I want to go out and continue helping them as much as possible because they’re truly on the frontlines against authoritarianism,” Joe said. “What happens in Ukraine could have massive ramifications throughout the rest of the world for the rest of my life, and my children’s lives.”