Tyler’s sister city asks for aid to receive 2,000 Ukrainian refugees

Just days after Tyler Sister Cities officials called for assistance, Tyler area residents responded with $12,000 in donations for the city of Jelenia Góra, Poland that has opened its doors to war refugees.

The money is earmarked to help the city provide a safe haven for an influx of Ukrainian refugees fleeing Russian attacks. Jelenia Góra is located in southwestern Poland about 621 miles from the Ukrainian border and has a population of about 80,000. It has been Tyler’s sister city since 1993.

Mickey Slimp, a liaison with Tyler Sister Cities, said the fund began after numerous people contacted him asking him how they could help.

The website is the most tangible way to help the estimated 2,000 refugees who are there now, he said.

“We raised $7,000 at first and on Friday hit $10,000,” he said. “I am very happy we hit $10,000. I’m not a fundraiser, but my dream is to hit $20,000. If we hit $20,000, I’ll be ecstatic.”

During a Sunday evening update, Slimp said the total was at $12,199.

Tyler Mayor Don Warren, who is in his first term, said Slimp contacted him with the idea of trying to assist Jelenia Góra.

“I told him I would be more than happy to help, and I reached out to our city staff and asked ‘Are you guys open to doing a Zoom call with their mayor?’ and the staff was all over it and excited about it,” Warren said. 

“I didn’t know what to expect, but we got acquainted with the interpreter first to make sure it worked and then had another Zoom for a press conference.”

Warren said he was able to speak to Jelenia Góra Mayor Jerzy Łużniak through an interpreter last week. He said the conversation was personal and compassionate despite the language barrier.

“The thing that was so uplifting about the conversation is here they are on the other side of the world from us and taking care of 2,000 refugees,” Warren said. “He and I have never met, and our conversation was such that it was like we had known each other for a long time. 

“Through this he told me that a friend in need is a friend indeed. And it kind of melted me. It made me realize that it doesn’t matter how far away from someone you are, you can help them.”

Warren said in addition to refugees coming to Jelenia Góra, the Poland city has three partner cities in Ukraine also looking for assistance. 

Russia launched a military invasion in Ukraine on Feb. 24. Russian President Vladimir Putin called it a “special military operation.” 

Slimp, who said he has visited Poland a couple of times and taught there for one semester, said although the war has been focused on Ukraine, Poland has taken an indirect hit. He said a good analogy would be when New Orleans residents fled to East Texas and other surrounding areas after Hurricane Katrina hit in 2005. 

Financial assistance is most needed because other forms of aid like food and water are difficult to transport and distribute, Slimp said. Poland is close to the size of Texas.

“They [residents of Jelenia Góra] may be able to spread out as they identify resources, but that’s always a challenge,” Slimp said. “They are filling up hotels and taking people into their homes.”

Warren said speaking with Łużniak helped him understand how the Polish people in Jelenia Góra are dealing with the war in Ukraine.

“There was a bombing 15 miles from the Polish border last weekend and I asked, ‘How does that make your people feel?’ and he said ‘It was very close to home,’” Warren said. 

“People are very concerned and fearful about the attack and the invasion of Ukraine. They were not expecting all of this to happen.”

Slimp said he encourages people to donate through the website if they are looking for a way to help the people they see on television and online escaping to Poland. 

During his travels to Jelenia Góra, he found the citizens accommodating and he looks forward to returning someday after things are resolved.

“They are just a very nice and generous people and treated us extremely well,” Slimp said. “They are very educated and very cultural. It is a great place to visit normally. 

“I was supposed to go last year but did not get to go because of COVID. We have had two faculty come over to teach at Tyler Junior College the past couple of years prior to COVID, and I think a couple sets of our teachers went to Poland too.

It is a neat way to get to know an area.”

Becky Bell, a native of Texarkana, Texas is an award winning writer residing in Magnolia, Arkansas. Bell has more than 20 years of journalism experience and graduated with a journalism degree from Stephen F. Austin State University in Nacogdoches.

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