A Hamilton-area man who flew to the Ukraine border to help a friend get his seven-year-old sister out of the war-torn country, is not sure how long he will have to stay considering he’s not heard from them since he arrived.
Ancaster native Wyatt Raitt, who had never travelled outside of North America until this trip, has been in Medyka, Poland for close to a week and a half. He hasn’t had further contact with his buddy Alec, but says he’s “holding up good.”
“It’s hard thinking about what may have happened to them or what may be happening, not to mention the fact that every day I see refugees coming through, no matter where I am,” Raitt told 900 CHML’s Scott Radley.
The Carleton University student says his journey was the result of answering one of many messages sent to a number of people by Alec in hope of receiving help. However, Ukrainian has mandates the country’s men to stay and fight.
“I messaged back to him quickly and I was like: ‘Yeah, I’ll see what I can do,'” said Raitt.
“So I kind of threw things together from there and decided that it … meant a lot to me to go personally.”
The news wasn’t met with much support initially from his family and friends, who tried to talk him out of the idea.
“When I first told them that I was going to Poland and Ukraine, they told me, no, I wasn’t,” Raitt said.
“They just said, no, I’m not allowed to go there and do that.”
After putting his foot down, his journey was met with acceptance.
Raitt says the plan was to meet up with his buddy’s sister at the border, travel to Gdańsk for a two-week stay, then on to Luckau, Germany, about 100 kilometres south of Berlin.
“I was going to stay there with her there until I could get the proper paperwork to get her to Canada, so that way my family could take care of her,” Raitt said.
Raitt says the refugee crisis has been “hard to look at” ever since he arrived.
“The very first place I was in was Kraków. I went to the train station and the very first thing I saw was thousands upon thousands of children … alone,” Raitt said.
“Not even their parents. Sleeping in the train station, crying, trying to find their parents.”
As of Thursday, the United Nations estimates Poland has taken in about 1.9 million refugees.
Raitt says a U.K. outreach organization, Siobhan’s Trust, has been giving him guidance, accommodations and even food while he waits for some sort of contact from Alec.
He’s also taken on some of the charity work using food-making skills he learned working at Rapscallion in Hamilton to make dishes for refugees.
A GoFundMe campaign, set up by his father Stephen, has helped. $10,000 has been raised to cover expenses and other costs involved in relocating the seven-year-old he is searching for.
However, his challenge remains immense, looking for a young girl he’s never seen before, and trying to communicate through a language barrier.
“It becomes hard because every time I see people crossing the border that aren’t my friend, I just just think about how it’s not them,” said Raitt.
“It just makes me think that I won’t get to see them again.”