Dexter man volunteers at refugee center on Ukrainian border

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DEXTER, N.M. – Currently Mike Jimenez lives with his sister in Dexter, but usually he can be found traveling the world. 

“New Zealand, Australia, an island in the Pacific called Roratonga, and Shanghai, China,” Jimenez said, as he listed some of the places he has visited. 

Since he retired in 2015, the retired college instructor has been leapfrogging to islands and countries all over the world. He planned to climb Mount Everest in April, but Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the reports of displaced people struck an emotional chord with him, and changed his plans.

“The more I saw, the more compelled I was to do something,” Jimenez said. 

He then sold much of what he owned and after doing research decided to go to Poland in hopes of assisting refugees. Once there, he heard about a refugee center stationed in an old shopping center in the town of Przemysl located on the Polish-Ukrainian border. 

Jimenez spent two weeks there, cleaning, off-loading supplies and aiding those Ukrainians forced from their homeland by war. Men of fighting age are forced to stay behind to try and fend off Russian forces, so Jimenez said most arrivals were women, children, senior citizens and the disabled. 

They would arrive by train, bus, cars, or vans each day, and be furnished with food, hygiene products, clothes, medical and even pet care. After 48 hours, a refugee would then be transported to another country to begin new lives. An uncertain future awaiting them and a past reduced to rubble. 

“They’re leaving their country. The majority of them don’t speak English or another language. They’re being sent off to another country where they don’t know the culture, they don’t know the language and they probably don’t know anybody 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 always present. 

“Some of these people would just have a blank look on their face. And they would just stare off into the distance,” Jimenez said. 

But even amid the desperation and devastation, Jimenez said there were displays of inspiration. The wheel-chair-bound British woman who volunteered, as well as two men in a truck from the Netherlands, would risk everything to drive refugees to the center or get supplies to those in need. 

Many of those volunteers braved uncomfortable and even dangerous conditions to help. 

“It was winter there and it was snowing. And there were volunteers sleeping out in tents outside. There were people who would come in and they would work as hard as they could,” Jimenez said. 

Though he has no plans to return to do more work with the center, Jimenez said he treasures the time he was there. 

“It’s a real feeling of doing something without any benefit of getting anything back. You just go do it and so you feel great for doing it,” he said.

Soon, Jimenez plans to go on a month-long bike ride to Seattle, in an effort to talk with people and raise awareness about the situation in Ukraine.