[Photo from L to R: Paul Ritacco, Janita Hogan, Joseph Hogan, Patrick Long at the Dorohusk border crossing on the Polish side.]

Editor’s note: Advocacy in Action is an occasional series about the many ways in which Temple Law students impact their world before graduation.

Temple Law evening students Patrick Long (2LE) and Joe Hogan (3LE) made the news when they traveled to Poland over spring break to assist Ukrainian refugees. We checked in with them to learn more about why they went, what they did, and whether they’ll return.

TLS: Why did you decide to spend spring break at the Polish border with Ukraine?

PL/JH: We were closely following the initial reports of an emerging refugee crisis. With spring break approaching and a former colleague of ours already on the ground in Poland, we had the opportunity and resources to try to make a difference in some way.

Joe heard the latest reports on the radio about the Ukrainian refugee crisis on Wednesday while driving to class and gave Patrick a call. He said, “If you’re going, I’m coming.” By 11:30 p.m. we booked our tickets and headed to Warsaw on Friday.

TLS: How did you help while you were there?

PL/JH: We arrived at the border at a critical moment. The border crossing process had become slightly more organized, but the larger NGOs were still setting up their operations so there was a greater opportunity for private citizens to show up and help.

After we arrived, our group traveled the three hours from Warsaw to the Dorohusk border crossing on the Polish side. Once there, we linked up with a German couple that packed their RV with supplies and traveled from Berlin to aid the refugees. Initially, we were serving coffee or tea, offering dog food, and providing baby supplies.

Later, we connected with World Central Kitchen (WCK) and helped scout out new locations to offer hot meals. This started with a small kielbasa stand in Dorohusk. As the refugee crisis continued to grow, WCK sought out larger locations to serve as refugee reception points. For instance, we drove out to a train station in Chelm and a former grocery store which was being converted into a welcome center for the refugees. We later linked up with Polish Humanitarian Action and helped to bring supplies to the border and other logistical matters.

While we were back in Warsaw, we were trying to build contacts with Polish lawyers, real estate agents, and local NGOs to start working on a housing program. We quickly identified housing as the critical issue as the refugee crisis persisted. Many Ukrainian refugees sought shelter with volunteers, but more sustainable housing is needed until these refugees can be reunited with their families at home. 

TLS: What did you learn?

PL/JH: Our trip made an incredible impact on our perspective of the refugee crisis and the broader Russia-Ukraine conflict. The Ukrainian people demonstrated their resiliency and strength despite being forcibly uprooted from their homes. The Polish people welcomed nearly two million refugees with open arms –they stepped up to help their neighbors.

We were surprised by the response time for some larger organizations, which is slower than we initially thought. Many people expected the war to last only a few days; however, the Ukrainian resistance proved that they will fight for every inch of their country. As a result, the extended conflict will lead to an extended humanitarian crisis. Organizations need the speed and flexibility to adapt to a changing environment.

Most importantly, we learned a lesson in our shared humanity. Only one person in our group of four spoke any Polish and none of us spoke Ukrainian. With the help of Google Translate, hand signals, and the kindness of others, we connected with people going through the most difficult moments of their life. Our shared understanding of human dignity transcended any cultural or language barriers.

TLS: What work remains to be done?

PL/JH: The refugee crisis is rapidly evolving over time. While we were in Poland, an estimated 1 million refugees fled Ukraine. Today, that number stands closer to 5 million.

We observed that food and clothing was being delivered to families at the proper points. Sustainable housing and shelter quickly became the larger issues. The initial refugees were welcome into Polish homes, while some of the less fortunate were camping in train stations on their way to other European cities. During our visit, we saw some warehouses being converted into temporary housing.

As the Ukrainian refugee crisis continues, long-term housing has become the critical issue. Thankfully, groups like Habitat for Humanity Poland are meeting this challenge head-on. Habitat Poland is leading a three-tiered housing response to address short term accommodations, interim rentals (6-12 months), and creating new long-term shelters by converting empty spaces into affordable housing.

While the conditions on the ground have changed drastically since our trip, one thing remains clear: Ukrainian refugees just want to go home.

TLS: Why did you come to Temple Law School?

PL/JH: Temple Law has a reputation for excellence in the Philadelphia area. Temple lawyers are the toughest in the city. We’re proud to be Temple Made. We both grew up in Lower Bucks County and worked for the late Congressman Mike Fitzpatrick, who advocated for both of us to attend law school.  We’re very proud to be from Bucks County and wanted to build future legal careers here. Temple maintains an incredibly robust alumni network, which we learned when our friend, Bucks County native, Temple Law Alum, and former PA Lt. Gov. Jim Cawley, pushed us towards Temple.

TLS: What do you hope to do with your law degree?

PL/JH: We both share backgrounds in government, politics, and compliance in some capacity. Joe recently worked on local economic development programs. He wants to continue his focus on economic development, real estate, land management, and municipal and environmental law. Patrick serves as a campaign finance consultant working in federal elections and wants to pursue government and public policy careers with his legal education.

Joe Hogan giving out supplies to refugees as the enter Poland and head to the reception center.
Janita and Joe working at the volunteer table by the border crossing.