Lincoln natives volunteer abroad to assist Ukrainian refugees

LINCOLN, Neb. (KOLN) – As Ukrainian refugees flee their home country during the war with Russia, some Lincolnites are on the ground in Europe to offer support during a time of uncertainty.

Two of those people are Tara Knuth, the executive director at the Lincoln Children’s Museum, and Mandy Haase-Thomas, the museum’s director of operations and engagement.

Both said they felt a calling to go to Poland.

“As mothers, both of us felt compelled and called to come and support these women and children who were coming into Poland from Ukraine,” Haase-Thomas said.

The pair are volunteering with Operation Safe Harbor Ukraine and arrived in Poland last week. They are not only working to support refugee families, but also distract kids from the realities of war.

“While we’re here, we bring that child advocacy, that early childhood education piece from being from the Lincoln Children’s Museum,” Haase-Thomas said. “But, it’s really not about the education. It’s really about the play.”

Knuth said simple activities, like making paper airplanes, have been eye opening.

“We asked ‘What are you making?’ It looked kind of like a package,” Knuth said. “The child said ‘I’m making supplies to send back for the war.’”

While they may not be able to distract everyone from the struggles they face, they are able to help coordinate families’ next moves.

“Caregivers are working through all the paperwork and getting ready for their next steps to find permanent housing,” Haase-Thomas said. “Many of the families that we work with here are planning to go to Canada or the UK.”

Haase-Thomas said when working with Ukrainian refugees, they mainly communicated through translation apps on their phones. Haase-Thomas and Knuth are helping anywhere they can, from volunteering at a medical clinic, to serving meals, and of course, keeping kids happy.

“What we’ve been able to do is provide activities to let these kids be kids.”

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