'It's about the bigger picture': Polish-born York College nurse helps Ukrainian refugees

Tina Locurto
York Dispatch

As a little girl growing up in communist Poland, Klaudia Cwiekala-Lewis witnessed the brutality of the Soviet Union. 

With family still abroad, the now-nursing professor and doctor at York College is scared of history repeating itself.

Since Russia invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24, millions of Ukrainians have fled — many ending up in Cwiekala-Lewis' home country of Poland.

Klaudia Cwiekala-Lewis, York College assistant professor of nursing, front center, and nursing students, from left, Ashley Hardy, Katarina Richardson, Adam Ziegler, Lydia McCleary, Nora Osowski and Evelyn Nguyen, display a Ukrainian flag at Diehl Hall at the campus Monday, March 21, 2022. The group has worked to orchestrate the shipment of donations to the University of Poland, one of the many universities working to aid the millions of refugees that have fled from the Ukraine since the Russian attack on the country. Bill Kalina photo

She fears her country could be next.

“For my generation, to see refugees coming from another country, we definitely feel similarities to what happened in the past," Cwiekala-Lewis said. “Everybody’s scared. It's scary because Poland was ripped apart so many times."

For more than four weeks, Russian forces have trampled Ukrainian cities in a relentless bombardment to edge closer to the capital, Kyiv, according to The Associated Press.

Though thousands of miles apart from her mother and cousins, Cwiekala-Lewis and her fellow York College colleagues and students aim to do what they can to help Ukrainian refugees.

She set up a collaboration with State University of Applied Sciences in Wloclawek, Poland, to have items shipped directly abroad. Nursing students at the Polish school will then deliver the items to a refugee shelter in Przemysl, a town just 30 minutes from the Ukraine border where refugees have been arriving by train.

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“Being a public health nurse, I like and love helping other people," Cwiekala-Lewis said. “That's what I want to instill in my students, helping others."

Cwiekala-Lewis has served as a nursing professor at York College for almost six years. Her specialty, public and community-oriented health, has come into play lately teaching lessons directly relating to the Ukraine crisis.

With her background largely involving how nurses respond to disasters, Cwiekala-Lewis is using the opportunity to construct lessons around disaster training and how nurses fit into the disaster response.

Klaudia Cwiekala-Lewis is a professor of nursing at York College.

“It's not about us — it's about the bigger picture," Cwiekala-Lewis said. "It's about helping other people that are in need.”

There are many ways for York County residents to support Cwiekala-Lewis' cause.

Interested individuals can buy items from a U.S. Amazon registry set up by Cwiekala-Lewis by visiting https://www.amazon.com/registries/custom/3QRWI5KL48OLC/guest-view. If purchasing directly from the U.S. registry, keep item totals under $150 to avoid forcing the Polish beneficiaries to pay tax, she said. 

Items for the U.S. Amazon registry should be shipped to: Beata Haor, Instytut Nauk o Zdowiu, Obroncow Wisly 1920r., Wloclawek, 87-800, Poland.

Faculty and students from the State University of Applied Sciences in Wloclawek, Poland, pose with the first shipment of items from York College of Pennsylvania. This shipment will be delivered to a refugee shelter in Przemysl, located just 30 minutes from the Ukraine border. Photo credit: Klaudia Cwiekala-Lewis

Those who are unable to buy directly from Amazon can support in other ways. 

A GoFundMe campaign has been set up at https://gofund.me/84d3a3c3. Folks can also donate via Venmo by sending donations to @Klaudia-Lewis-1 or using the below QR code:

All money collected via Venmo and GoFundMe will be used by the York College faculty and students to purchase items from Amazon Poland and ship them directly with no extra shipping charges or custom forms, Cwiekala-Lewis said.

Items on the registry include first-aid kits, wool blankets, sleeping bags, solar lamps, flashlights, toothbrushes, toothpaste and diapers.

— Reach Tina Locurto at tlocurto@yorkdispatch.com or on Twitter at @tina_locurto. 

York County residents can scan this QR code to donate directly via Venmo. Photo credit by Dr. Klaudia Cwiekala-Lewis.