RICHMOND, Va. — A Virginia Commonwealth University professor is back stateside after spending nine days helping Ukrainian refugees cross the border to safety.
Frank Pichel is a freelance advertiser by trade and teaches animation at VCU in Richmond.
He first spoke to CBS 6 sister company Newsy about his trip. Pichel admitted that his family and friends had major reservations about him traveling right into the potential danger in Eastern Europe.
Pichel decided to go anyway and flew to Warsaw, Poland during his spring break. He rented a car and then looked for people to help.
He held a sign at the border in Ukrainian that he could drive three people and their pets to safety.
Larger organizations were already providing food for the refugees, but Pichel found what they really needed at the time was transportation.
“What’s happening is buses and cars are coming out of Ukraine and dropping people right at the border,” he recalled. “Some had plans to go somewhere, some had no plans—so those people, I would just give them rides to wherever they wanted to go.”
Pichel recounted the moment he met a Georgian family who left their country in 2008 when Russian President Vladimir Putin invaded. Now, the family was forced to flee again from Ukraine and make their way to France.
“It was a mom, a dad, they had a 15-year-old special needs son and a 3-year-old,” he stated. “Being able to give them money to help their journey—everybody was crying in the car.”
Pichel said he paid for the trip on his own. However, word got out about his good deeds, and he collected $10,000 in donations.
He planned to donate the funds to Ukrainian families in need.
Helping strangers is nothing new for the VCU professor. In 1999, he traveled to Kosovo to help refugees during the war.