Basements“Pain. We feel pain. We’ve packed up our lives in one suitcase.”Marina left Chernivtsi with her father and son after nightly air raid sirens routinely forced them into their basement.Marina wears a black turtleneck sweater and glasses as she sits in a comfortable flat in Ausburg, Germany. The pain she describes is evident on her face.She is a kindergarten teacher and, until March, she lived with her young son and husband in Chernivtsi, Ukraine.“Everything was great,” she says through an interpreter. “And one morning it was announced that the war began.”Nightly air raid sirens became routine. Viktor, Marina’s father, would get up and go with his daughter and grandson to the basement each time the sirens went off. “That’s quite scary,” he says.“Basements are awful,” says Marina.German Lions partnered with other organizations and volunteers to bring more than 170 refugees to safety.They decided to leave, Marina’s husband staying behind to fight. He went to the Territorial Defense Forces first, then the Armed Forces. There isn’t enough equipment. “They are fighting with their bare hands,” she says. She doesn’t know if she will see him again.They went by car from Ukraine to Moldova and then to Romania, where they stayed for three days before getting picked up by Lions. CorridorsWhen Russia invaded Ukraine, German Lion Philipp Blobel knew he had to act.“After the war broke out, I was really shocked,” says Philipp Blobel, a Lion with the Augsburg-Elias Holl Lions in Augsburg, Germany. But Blobel quickly transitioned into action. “I started to think, what are my strengths,” he says. As a former officer in the German Air Force, he had the skills and experience to help organize. “I have a wide network through my Lions club, and we quickly organized help.”Their first mission in early March took three days and they brought back 19 refugees, including seven children. Viktor, Marina, and her son were among them.The Lions—who came from multiple clubs throughout Germany—picked up whoever needed them, including a 20-day-old baby and an 87-year-old woman. It was this woman’s third war of her lifetime. Ninety years ago it was the Germans who are attacking her. Now it was the Germans who were rescuing her.Lions made multiple difficult and dangerous trips across borders to bring needed supplies to the people of Ukraine.To organize the mission Blobel partnered with the Ukraine Club, a private club of volunteers, made up mostly of Ukrainian refugees from 2014 when Russia illegally and annexed Crimea. They brought Blobel into Chernivtsi where he met with Serhiy Osachuk, the governor of the city. Osachuk was able to tell Blobel exactly what was needed in the region so Lions could get to work quickly and effectively. “We learned that if we send food we have to send food which is prepared,” says Blobel. “So, it can’t require energy or water to make the food ready to eat. In the hot zone, there is nearly nothing. So, no water, no electricity, no possibility to heat up something.”The partnership with the Ukraine club was key in helping Lions help refugees quickly. “Partnerships are needed in this kind of case because you need a wide-ranging network that’s supporting you with the transport systems,” says Blobel. “You have to have a corridor through the borders, otherwise you get into high traffic jams.”HumansBlobel’s wife, Natalia was the only one in their club fluent in Russian and was key in helping the refugees feel comfortable in their new surroundings.Blobel is also careful to get help from the right people. “Of course, it’s very relevant who you accept help from, because we don’t want to have business afterwards. We all are volunteers, and we want Ukraine to get the help it needs and not [worry about] a businessman who is doing business out of it.” In all, the German Lions used a wide range of partners to make multiple missions into Ukraine to aid refugees, including the Rotary club, who they partnered with on the second mission. “There are a lot of volunteers, which we partner who are not Lions members, they are just humans like you and us and they help me a lot.”One of the people who helped a lot was Blobel’s wife, Natalia. She is the only one in their club fluent in Russian and was key in helping the refugees feel comfortable in their new surroundings. And in the beginning, those new surroundings were often in the homes of Lions and other volunteers.“As soon as we heard that there’s people in need in Ukraine, there was not a question about time, about money, about what we should do, but it was clear,” says Katja Segmueller of the Augsburg-Elias Holl Lions. “It was clear from the heart that we had to go to Ukraine, and to welcome these people into our families, in our hearts, and here in Augsburg.”As of April 12, 2022, Lions in Germany had helped to house more than 170 people.FamilyMarina, her son, and her father, Viktor, stayed with Blobel and his wife when they first arrived in Germany. They have since become like family.Marina, her son, and her father, Viktor, stayed with Blobel and his wife when they first arrived. “We opened our house because everyone of us has to do something,” says Blobel. “And of course, at first they were just guests. But when they left our home they had become friends. And we still have a good relationship and we are happy to have met them.”“Natalia and Philipp became our family,” says Marina. “We felt the support of all of Germany in this family.”Miroslava was a translator working in Ukraine when she decided the risk to her two young sons was too great to stay.While they were staying at their home, the Blobels learned about actual family Marina and Viktor had who were still in dangerous regions of Ukraine and they were able to arrange to get them out in the second mission.“Lots of relatives and friends are still there,” says Marina. “My great-grandmother didn’t want to flee her home.” One of her friends who she was able to help is Miroslava, a translator working in Ukraine. When she heard Marina had gotten safely to Germany, Miroslava immediately wrote and asked to join them.Like Marina, she had been living in Chernivtsi where the air raid sirens were going off daily. “I was not sure that I’m in safe place,” she says. She speaks in English, her hair in a pair of French braids that lie neatly over her shoulders. “And my children also. And I saw in news, I saw children from Kharkiv. They were without food, without hands. I decided, no, I will not wait. I can’t let that happen to my children. I must leave now.” Lions brought her to Germany with her two sons and her mother-in-law. Like, Marina, her husband stayed behind to fight.“We decided my husband should stay. Because he should defend our country, our land, our home. And it was hard to leave him, of course, but there’s no other way, no other way.”LeavingAnna fled with her neighbor on the first day of the war and now wonders if she will ever be able to return.Miroslava and Marina are like the many other refugees that have come to Germany with the aid of Lions—incredibly grateful and yet incredibly sad.Anna is a 22-year-old student at a National Medical University in Kyiv. Her dark blond hair is combed neatly and gold-toned wire-framed glasses rest lightly on her face. She sits on a bed near a window, and the brightness of the day outside filters softly over her comforter. She fled with her neighbor on the first day of the war.“When we left I was thinking that there are only two things that will happen,” she says. “I will return to my dormitory in a few days and everything will be okay, or I will not return and the things that I will take with me now, it will be all that I have.”They went first to her neighbor’s hometown in the Khmelnytskyi district, which is a small city in Shepetivka. They stayed for just a few days before hearing word that Russian soldiers were nearing Shepetivka, so they crossed the border to Poland. She was able to get in contact with her mother who told her she and Anna’s two sisters were headed to Germany. Anna was eventually able to join them.Thinking she wouldn’t be gone long, she took her laptop with her when she left her dorm, so she could continue her studies. But now she finds it hard to stay motivated. She fights back tears as she talks. “Now, I think that I should have taken different things.”Returning“I want to return to Ukraine,” says Anna. “I am very appreciative for what the Lions and Germans, both the people and government, are doing for us. But still, this is not my home. And now my home is on fire.”“What really needs to be done is to end the war,” says Blobel. “And this can’t be a task of Lions. We can advocate for peace. We can support with humanity, with aid, with donations. But we can’t stop the war.”Hear more about the hard work of Lions and stories of Ukrainian refugees here.If you’d like to learn more about how you can help, including information about LCIF’s new Refugees and Displaced Persons fund, visit lionsclubs.org/UkraineResponse.