HP Volunteers Offer Help and Hope to Displaced Ukrainians
When Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24, neighboring countries soon found themselves with a humanitarian crisis. Thousands of refugees — mostly women, children, and the elderly — were arriving daily, many with nothing more to survive the frigid winter days than a small bag of belongings.
Almost instantly, HP employees across Central and Eastern Europe took action, making sandwiches and hot drinks for refugees during overnight volunteer shifts at local shelters, organizing collections of needed items, and setting up systems to keep colleagues informed about volunteer opportunities — and even shopping for, filling, and delivering Easter baskets.
“I was very touched and proud to see how my colleagues organized deliveries and engaged personally to help hundreds of people coming to Warsaw and Wrocław [where HP has offices] on a daily basis,” says Andrzej Sowiński, managing director, Poland. “We are also responsible for distribution of a grant from the HP Foundation among key Polish NGOs — this help is very much needed here and now.” Overall, the HP Foundation allocated $3 million to be granted by country Managing Directors Sowiński (Poland), Cristian-Mugurel Pantaia (Romania), and Erika Lindauerova (Hungary, Slovakia, Czech Republic), and donated $250,000 in direct relief grants to organizations like the Polish Red Cross and UNICEF.
In Poland, where more than 3 million Ukrainian refugees fled since the start of the war, HP was among the first to provide essentials like food and hygiene products, in addition to the efforts of individual employees who volunteered at train-station assistance points and unloaded and sorted deliveries for Foundation Ukraine, an NGO helping migrants.
The company is also donating funds to help organize Polish language courses for Ukrainian refugees and sent printers to the Happy Kids Foundation for orphans from Ukraine. Some employees helped clear out unused spaces in Prague for use as temporary classrooms or community centers, and in Slovakia and Hungary, others helped transport refugees from the border and volunteered at local assistance centers.
Meanwhile, in Romania, employees donated blood, helped provide personal care products, and created resources so that refugees could learn how to request asylum and access free medical services. “This extreme crisis has shown that we can act together, organize ourselves around one goal,” says Romanian MD Pantaia. “We saw people inviting Ukrainian refugees to their homes, bringing families together and allowing for a transition from war into a bit of normal life.” Among the grants he has helped coordinate is $210,000 to the Social Incubator, a Bucharest NGO helping refugees travel to safety. “I am especially proud that HP has shown its inclusive company culture through activities initiated and led by our employees.” Here’s how four HP employees took direct action and made a difference in the lives of Ukrainians fleeing the war.
PETR JEŘÁBEK, Supply Chain Operations Manager, Czech Republic
When Russian troops invaded Ukraine, Petr Jeřábek’s group chat in Prague lit up with ideas about how to help besides just donating money. “One of my close friends is of Ukrainian descent and another has a partner from Ukraine, so we knew we needed to help somehow,” he says. Within days, the group of 14 had gathered five vans and three family cars to drive the nearly 1,600-kilometer round trip to the Ukrainian border and back to bring refugees to safety. They left before sunrise, and after driving some 12 hours through the Czech Republic and Slovakia, the caravan (which was also carrying medical supplies) arrived at the small Slovakian village of Vyšné Nemecké on the Ukrainian border. They were only allowed to drive one car at a time to pick up their refugee passengers at the Red Cross station.
Finally, they collected some 60 people: mothers with children, the elderly, even pets, and took them to the Czech Republic. (The eight-seater silver bus Jeřábek drove carried a bulldog.) Jeřábek says he knew he couldn’t ask the people he drove much about what had happened to their families—among them husbands left in Ukraine who had joined the army, maybe even were killed. The stories are heartbreaking, he says. “I think the most difficult part of any war is when you connect the news all of us see with real people’s fates, people you physically meet.”
JOANNA SZNUR-OLEKSIEWICZ, EMEA Lean Six Sigma Project Manager, Poland
As refugees began arriving in Poland, Joanna Sznur-Oleksiewicz was so upset by what she saw that she couldn’t eat. “The war took us by surprise, the number of refugees took us by surprise — no one was prepared for this. They have lost all peace and security. They are hungry, and sometimes with only one suitcase in hand and a scared child in the other,” she says of the refugees. “The shock, disbelief — I knew then that I would have to help somehow.” She personally donated food, clothing, and money, and did what she could to help the Ukrainians new to Poland find jobs. But she also was inspired to lead the Wrocław corporate social responsibility team, spending some 20 hours per week in the first month of the war planning and organizing various support initiatives and coordinating HP volunteers to unpack relief supplies from trucks, then sort and deliver them to refugees, among other activities.
“Chaos was growing by the day — it was difficult to talk about any orderly action,” she says of the early days of the war. “The most meaningful thing from my perspective was to control the chaos, to direct the actions, to redirect the energy in a wellthought-out way.” As things have settled into more of a routine, Sznur-Oleksiewicz has to spend less time organizing. Not one to stand by, she’s already moved on to what she thinks will be the more difficult challenge: long-term assistance for refugees. “We are already thinking about it and we have ideas,” she says.
IRISHA TODERICI, Global Marketing Automation & Lead Management, Romania
Recently, in a clothing store in Bucharest, Irisha Toderici heard a five-year-old refugee from Odesa begging his mom for a shirt with a picture of Sonic, the blue superhero hedgehog who can run at supersonic speeds. When his mom told him there were other more important things to buy — and that hopefully his dad back in Ukraine could send clothes — the boy said he needed the shirt so he could use Sonic speed and be with his mom and dad always. Toderici immediately offered to buy the shirt. “He even told me I am like a superhero lady,” she said of the boy.
He’s not wrong: Toderici — who grew up in Moldova attending a Russian high school and has Ukrainian roots — has helped organize housing and food for relatives and former HP colleagues who have had to flee. When she sees refugees in Bucharest, she is also drawn to help. Sometimes it’s paying the bill for them in grocery stores; other times it might be to serve as translator for people buying train tickets. “This is very personal for me, because having Ukrainian roots I feel like this could be me in their place,” she says. “I like helping specific people, not just giving help to an organization.”
ZUZANA KOČANOVÁ, Senior IT Project Manager, Czech Republic
Like a lot of people, Zuzana Kočanová sent money to help refugees. But that wasn’t enough and she soon registered in several different volunteer databases after securing the support of her manager and director. Her first job: loading cars at a local church with food and clothing on a Saturday.
The next day she did an eight-hour shift preparing and serving food to refugees at KACPU, the Czech Republic’s Regional Assistance Center for Help and Assistance to Ukraine. This involved everything from making sandwiches to finding the right-size diapers for babies, as well as suitable baby food. She subsequently returned to KACPU to do a night shift from 2 am to 6 am, and another shift from 10 pm to 6 am, so she wouldn’t need to miss work. The hot tea, coffee, and soup were especially appreciated during the frigid temperatures, she says, and she liked having contact both with the refugees as well as with medics from the Red Cross and interpreters.
“It was also good to know what was really happening,” she says, seeing, for example, moms with kids and just small plastic bags of belongings. But the biggest highlight: “The smile on the refugees’ faces when you helped them.”