By Richard LeComte
LEXINGTON, Ky. – A chance meeting in Poland brought two University of Kentucky alumni together to assist refugees from the war in Ukraine.
Lauren Metelski ‘06, a nurse living in Washington, D.C., and Joe Bradley ‘01, who was working remotely for a company in Ukraine, have partnered to form Go Help Now, a nonprofit that provides cash assistance, housing and basic needs to displaced Ukrainians and maintains a volunteer directory. They both graduated from UK with degrees in Russian studies in the Department of Modern & Classical Languages, Literatures & Cultures.
“In February 2022, I began helping friends out and then friends of friends,” Bradley said. “I had lived in Kyiv for two and a half years. I was actually back in Kentucky for the holidays and stuck around, so fortunately I didn't experience the initial attack, but I had a roommate and friends there, and everyone had their own experiences. Then I met Lauren through a mutual friend over the summer, and found that we had a lot of similar goals.”
Metelski was in D.C., but she knew she could use her skills in Russian and health care to help Ukrainian refugees. She volunteered with World Central Kitchen, a group that helps feed refugees.
“I researched a bunch of organizations to see where I could volunteer,” Metelski said. “I started to build relationships with people through their websites and by emails and phone calls, or by going to events.”
In July, she went to Poland and I volunteered with World Central Kitchen.
“I worked alongside volunteers, many of whom were Ukrainians who had come through one of the main train stations at the border of Ukraine and Poland,” Metelski said. “They had received help from World Central Kitchen and turned around and continued to volunteer for several months. It’s a really fantastic group of Ukrainians and people from all over the world working together.”
That summer, Metelski and Bradley ran into each other in Poland through mutual friends and found they had two big things in common: the desire to help people and membership in the Big Blue Nation.
“I think we've probably lived in the same neighborhood growing up, which is pretty funny, and then we met in Warsaw face to face for the first time,” Metelski said. “We have people in common whom we know, including professors in Russian studies. We had been talking over the phone about what each of us was doing. We talked about how we can work together to raise funds.”
They came up with Go Help Now, which has helped more than 300 refugees in Poland with cash and shelter, Bradley said. Refugees need a place to live, and often are cut off from their bank accounts.
“The research that's been done says when you give refugees cash money, they can better their circumstances,” Metelski said. “And we’re also working with a shelter program that we're supporting and hope to continue to collaborate with. They use volunteers to interview people who are fleeing in Ukraine, who need temporary safe housing and connect them with volunteer hosts all over the world.”
Although the pair have noted that some Ukrainian refugees have returned over the year after the invasion, many more are still displaced and in need.
“When they request assistance, they describe their need, and it can be pretty heartbreaking,” said Bradley, who now lives in Turkey. “Their apartment was bombed, or they are a single mother with children and need money for medication. Unfortunately, everyone in Ukraine is in need. We send what we can, and we’ve got about 300 outstanding requests that we’re working to raise more money for.”
Metelski and Bradley came to Russian studies by different paths. Bradley found the Cyrillic alphabet intriguing, and he remembers watching the Berlin Wall fall when he was 10.
“I wanted to see what's on the other side of the world, and I studied in Vladimir and St. Petersburg on an exchange program,” he said. “I enjoyed it, and I decided I should learn the language. I lived in Ukraine in 2002, and when I learned I could work remotely I returned about three years ago.”
Metelski started studying in the Foreign Language International Economics program. Then as part of her study of international economics, she began learning Russian as well.
“When I was into my third year, I realized I loved learning Russian language, culture, literature and history way more than economics, and the department was awesome,” she said. “All of these professors formed an incredible community, and so I switched over.”
Bradley’s and Metelski’s passion demonstrates what’s possible to do with a Wildcat education.
“The reason we came up with the name of Go Help Now is because we realize that during a humanitarian disaster or relief period people want to help,” Metelski said. “There is a lot of good in people, and we want to be able to give people opportunities in the three ways that we think we can, which is promoting volunteerism, giving them the ability to provide cash grants and looking for safe housing solutions for people. And this is something we can apply for future.”
Note: Go Help Now in partnership with University of Kentucky Department of History and Department of Modern and Classical Languages, Literatures and Cultures is sponsoring an event titled “An Evening of Celebration for Ukraine” from 6 to 9 p.m. Saturday, May 13, at Grayline Station, 101 W. Loudon Ave. Details are here.