Hope Across Borders addresses the plight of Ukrainian refugeesSep 11, 2023 11:41AM ● By Peri Kinder
Hope Across Borders, founded by Riverton residents Win and Mindie Packer, is a nonprofit helping Ukrainian refugees in Poland and Ukraine. The organization provides clothes, laptops, school supplies and other necessities for Ukrainian families in crisis. (Photo courtesy of Hope Across Borders)
As Russian tanks rolled across Ukraine’s border in February 2022, Win and Mindie Packer watched the beginning of the war in disbelief. Win Packer had served a church mission in Russia in the ‘90s and had observed the brotherly relationship between the two countries.
“Ukrainians and Russians were kind of like Americans and Canadians,” Win Packer said. “There are tons of family members and people who talk to each other all the time. There was a very soft border between the two [countries]. And so when the war broke out, I was blown away that this could happen to these people who were pretty much like brother and sister countries, and people with similar cultures.”
When they saw the mass exodus of people, mostly women and children, leaving war zones in Ukraine, the Packers knew they had to step in. Mindie Packer said hey couldn’t save all of the millions of refugees, but they could help a few.
In July 2022, the Riverton residents took their first trip to Poland and connected with other humanitarian groups, including World Central Kitchen. An abandoned shopping mall had been converted into a refugee camp, but it was meant to be short term and was in the process of being shut down. It was chaos as all the refugees scrambled to find new housing.
“My heart broke,” Mindie Packer said. “There were people my age who had kids that were my kids’ age that literally had to leave with nothing, just to get to safety. I was seeing it on the news, but to witness it firsthand was surreal. It was unbelievable.”
The Packers spent the week transporting people to different refugee camps, helping them establish toy rooms for the kids, laundry rooms for families and helping all of them find clothing. That trip was the first of many as the Packers returned to Poland and Ukraine several times over the course of the year.
They started the process to create Hope Across Borders, a nonprofit organization that helps Ukrainian refugees, and continued bringing much needed clothing, school supplies and laptops to the many children who were forced to leave their homes.
With the help of donations, the Packers set up a computer lab in a refugee camp so students could stay on top of schoolwork. They worked with Delta Airlines to get free checked bags filled with underwear, socks, shoes, warm clothes and coats.
Michael Thaler traveled with the Packers in July, on their latest trip, and spent three days in Ukraine. Thaler said refugee centers in the western part of Ukraine had terrible living conditions.
“What stood out was there’s such a big need and what we did was amazing, but there’s just a huge need,” he said. “That was kind of overwhelming to see that. We don’t see that on the news.”
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees estimates nearly 6 million people were internally displaced across Ukraine by the end of 2022, with another 2.5-3 million people crossing into Poland as refugees.
Hope Across Borders completed the federal process to become a 501(c)(3) in July and 100% of donations go to help refugees. The organization also sponsors Ukrainians to come to the United States and recently helped a Ukrainian family relocate to Riverton. For more information, visit HopeXBorders.com.
“I mean, there are millions of refugees and we obviously can’t help all of them,” Mindie Packer said. “But we’re trying to do what we can.” λ