HONEYVILLE - Ellen Cook, Headliner Media Specialist, April 12, 2022
Like many in America, Elizabeth Smith has been watching with interest and concern the destruction and devastation of the Russia vs. Ukraine conflict and the displacement of so many Ukrainian people who are caught in the crossfires of a power-hungry war.
Unlike those who have relied on news reports, however, this Honeyville woman has seen the casualties of that ongoing war firsthand and has even assisted with some of the humanitarian aid being offered to those who find themselves homeless in their own homeland.
Elizabeth recently returned from a week-long humanitarian relief effort that took her to Poland and then into parts of Ukraine, bringing with her much needed food and medical supplies.
But she did not go alone. And in that lies the story.
Elizabeth is the mother of Solomon Smith, a project manager with an Air Force contractor and an expert in military logistics. As February came to an end, Solomon, who resides in Brigham City, found himself in between assignments. At the urging of his wife. Tamara, and even more encouragement from his 9-year-old son, Mark, this father of four decided he could use his skills to provide help where it was needed most. He has been shuttling resources and refugees in that war-torn region since the first part of March.
Elizabeth became part of his mission of mercy when she got a call from her daughter-in-law, stating Solomon wanted Mark to come and participate. Grandmother volunteered to go with him.
They left the end of March and flew into Poland before meeting up with Solomon.
Many different organizations are offering relief assistance in Ukraine, but some refugees are being overlooked, Elizabeth said. “The big charity organizations are going to the big cities. They are great at handling the mass, but they don’t have the ability to go down into little areas and take care of those people. It just isn’t happening.”
This is where her son has stepped up to help. In his time there, Solomon has contacted many different people, several orphanages, a medical facility and religious organizations, coordinating and collecting much needed supplies.
“He is very good at what he does,” Elizabeth said, adding that he has given similar assistance all over the world. “He has lived in a lot of countries in his life and has an appreciation for the history of this country, a deep compassion for its people and what they’ve gone through and are going through again.”
But choosing to drive head-on into the residuals of this terrible war has made him somewhat of a hero.
“No one is going into Ukraine,” Elizabeth said. “For Solomon to go into Ukraine is a big deal. Everyone is saying that it is too dangerous. Even the volunteers in Poland would not go across the border. But I had a lot of confidence in Solomon, and I knew he wouldn’t take us somewhere dangerous.”
With a load of supplies they crossed the border into Lviv. Elizabeth said in that city The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has a meetinghouse.
Those evacuating the center of the fighting up north are funneling into this area in the hope of finding safety, she said. Many come on foot with only what they can carry in a small suitcase, leaving everything else behind.
“They have taken the church and they have made it kind of like into a dormitory,” she said. “People are staying there, some for several weeks as they make arrangements to go to Poland. They have taken the classrooms and have mattresses on the floor where the women and children were staying.”
Elizabeth said that the men of military age, must remain in Ukraine. “They are not all necessarily in the war or even in the military, but they cannot leave Ukraine at this point, in case they are needed for war. So those who are fleeing are mostly children and mothers, they are women.”
Not all are escaping to Poland, however. Because Ukraine is about the size of Texas, there are areas, especially to the south, that are far removed from the conflict. Elizabeth said many are leaving the cities like Kharviv, Kyiv and Lviv and retreating to the outlying countryside, hoping to find relative safety there.
In the city of Lviv, a city that had seen bombings, the trio stayed with a pastor and his wife who have made the choice to stay behind despite the continual threat and warning sirens going off. They wanted to help refugees coming through as best they could.
“These are just wonderful Christian people,” she noted. “They decided to stay with faith instead of fear. They have a little boy they took to the country to the grandfather so that he would be safe.”
Others are part of that mass exodus to those remote areas, as well, and a serious problem has developed.
“There are all these people who are going down to these country places. The country cannot sustain and take care of them all. There is a major supply chain problem, anyway, because they are fighting and not trucking food,” Elizabeth said. “You bring a whole bunch of refugees into a small community, and they can’t take care of them. They don’t have food and supplies. So you have millions of people who have either left Ukraine or children or families who do not want to leave Ukraine who are going out into the country to get away from the fighting. They are all displaced.”
Solomon has focused his efforts in these areas. During their week, Mark and Elizabeth joined him in delivering medical supplies to a small country hospital, supplies that Solomon had gotten through one of his many contacts (“He is on the phone all day, people calling him, making connections,” Elizabeth said). Those supplies came out of France into a Catholic nunnery in Poland, where they were picked up and loaded into a van someone had given to Solomon as they fled the country for Canada. That unexpected gift was a miracle and a Godsent in his efforts, according to his mother.
“They were so excited to get just basic medical supplies,” she said.
They also made a stop at an orphanage where a woman was caring for more than one hundred children, some who had walked alone from cities leveled by the Russian attacks. Solomon had visited there the week before and brought food supplies.
Food is a big need, Elizabeth said. “You have to realize in these tiny villages in the country they just have little corner markets, and they buy day to day. They never would think of buying for a week’s worth of food, let alone have any kind of food storage. That just doesn’t exist. So when we say a shortage of food, there is no food.”
She said that is the current crisis in that part of Ukraine. “They are not in war down there but, all of a sudden, all of their supplies to maintain just aren’t available.”
This trip, however, they brought a welcomed surprise to the orphanage - a television. Elizabeth said her son had asked the woman what the orphanage could use besides food.
The woman said, “Oh, if we would just have a small TV!” Solomon got her a big screen television and mounted it on the wall amid smiles and tears. The grateful woman was overwhelmed, declaring they did not need anything so nice. “But this now gives her a way to take care of these kids all day long, kids who have nowhere to go,” Elizabeth said.
For Mark, the orphanage visit, where he had a chance to interact with those closer to his age, was a highlight “My favorite part of the trip was going to the orphanage and playing with the kids. There was a little girl who reminded me of my baby sister.”
From there it was an eight-hour drive back to Poland. They had a hiccup trying to get back across the border, however, and were told they would have to wait about two hours before they could pass. “So we left there and went to another border location in Slovakia and got in in 20 minutes.”
They spent the night back in Poland then Elizabeth and Mark said goodbye to Solomon and headed home the next day. Solomon will continue his humanitarian efforts through April before returning home to start his new assignment.
For Elizabeth, the trip was both heart-wrenching and eye-opening.
“The whole country is traumatized. The Ukrainian people are very angry with the war and with Russia,” she said. “But they are very humble people and hardworking and they are willing to fight to the end. They are also very resilient and very grounded people.”
Elizabeth said she saw that in the way they welcomed other refugees into their midst. “It was amazing to me how helpful they are to each other. People are coming down to those little towns and those people are taking them into their homes and taking care of them. They aren’t sending them somewhere else. The same is true in Poland. Those people are willingly taking in all these people. They have an amazing amount of compassion. They are not hard people, even though they are facing hard times.”