DEXTER, NM — Currently, Mike Jimenez lives with his sister in Dexter, but he can usually be found traveling the world.
“New Zealand, Australia, an island in the Pacific called Roratonga and Shanghai, China,” Jimenez said, listing some of the places he’s visited.
Since retiring in 2015, the retired college instructor has made leaps and bounds to islands and countries around the world. He planned to climb Mount Everest in April, but Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and reports of displaced people hit him and changed his plans.
“The more I saw, the more I had to do something,” Jimenez said.
He then sold much of what he had and, after doing some research, decided to go to Poland in hopes of helping the refugees. Once there, he heard about a refugee center set up in a former shopping center in the town of Przemysl on the Polish-Ukrainian border.
Jimenez spent two weeks there, cleaning up, unloading supplies and helping Ukrainians driven from their homeland by war. Men of fighting age are being forced to stay to try to fend off Russian forces, so Jimenez said most of the arrivals were women, children, the elderly and people with disabilities.
They arrived daily by train, bus, car or van and received food, hygiene products, clothing, medical care and even pet care. After 48 hours, a refugee would then be transported to another country to start a new life. An uncertain future awaits them and a past reduced to rubble.
“They leave their country. The majority of them do not speak English or any other language. They are sent to another country where they don’t know the culture, they don’t know the language and they probably don’t know anyone, so their culture is being destroyed,” Jimenez said.
The refugee center had phone chargers, pet supplies and even entertainment for children. But the echoes and shock of war were still present.
“Some of these people would just have a blank look on their face. And they were just looking away,” Jimenez said.
But even amid the desperation and devastation, Jimenez said there were shows of inspiration. The British woman in a wheelchair who volunteered, along with two men in a lorry from the Netherlands, would risk everything to drive refugees to the center or bring supplies to those in need.
Many of these volunteers have braved uncomfortable and even dangerous conditions to help.
“It was winter there and it was snowing. And there were volunteers sleeping in tents outside. There were people coming and they were working as hard as they could,” Jimenez said.
Although he has no plans to return to do more work with the centre, Jimenez said he treasured his time there.
“It’s a real feeling to do something without any benefit of receiving anything in return. You’re just going to do it and it feels good doing it,” he said.
Soon, Jimenez plans to take a month-long bike ride to Seattle, with the goal of talking with people and raising awareness about the situation in Ukraine.