Alumnus Assists in Relief Efforts in War-Ravaged Ukraine
As he watched the images from besieged Ukraine in March, one thought entered the mind of Tymon Meehan ’05CPS, ’07MPS:
“What must be done?”
"As the product of a Catholic University, and as someone whose whole education was founded on the Catholic value of helping others, when I saw what was going on I wanted to do something."
- BS/MPS in Criminal Justice
- Minor in Sport Management
- The Lesley H. and William L. Collins College of Professional Studies
That Vincentian question prompted Tymon to approach his wife Milena about the possibility of joining relief efforts in Poland for Ukrainians displaced by Russia’s invasion, which began on February 24, 2022, as part of an escalation of a war that started eight years earlier.
Initially wary, Milena, born in Lodz, Poland, ultimately agreed, and the pair traveled to Elk, Poland, a few hours from the border with Ukraine. There, they and two colleagues helped refugees secure bedding, food, and even medical care for those displaced by the conflict.
“As the product of a Catholic University, and as someone whose whole education was founded on the Catholic value of helping others, when I saw what was going on I wanted to do something,” Tymon recalled. “Plus, my wife still has family in that part of the world. Once the invasion started, we did not know how far it would extend. Everything was so unknown then.”
Inspired to help after a conversation with members of the Missionary Sisters of St. Benedict in Huntington, NY, who operate two children’s homes in Ukraine, Tymon and Milena arrived in Poland two weeks after the invasion began. Tymon, 38, is a lieutenant and emergency medical technician in the New York Police Department (NYPD); Milena, 46, is a retired NYPD sergeant.
As the product of a Catholic University, and as someone whose whole education was founded on the Catholic value of helping others, when I saw what was going on I wanted to do something.
— Tymon Meehan
Tymon is also the son of Kathleen “Kathy” Meehan ’75Ed, ’79GEd, the University’s Senior Deputy Athletic Director, and the product of a Polish and Irish family. As an alumna and long-serving employee, Kathy instilled Vincentian values in her own family. For this and more she was presented with the Vincentian Mission Award in 1995 for her service work among the physically and socially disadvantaged.
“I had heard that the Benedictine sisters were taking in refugees and they needed physical help on the ground,” Tymon said. “I said, ‘sign me up.’ Once my wife processed it, she became very excited about it.”
Both Meehans worked in the NYPD’s medical unit and speak fluent Polish. They joined two other NYPD colleagues, one who is fluent in Russian and another who is a former Army combat medic, in shuttling refugees from the border to Elk, where the Missionary Sisters of St. Benedict have a convent.
The Meehans and their colleagues were not permitted to cross the border into Ukraine. Despite fluencies in several related languages, no one in the group spoke Ukrainian. There was, however, what Tymon called a “mutual intelligibility” from the number of ethnic Poles living in Ukraine at the time of the invasion.
The sheer volume of evacuees was eye-opening, Milena said.
“There were a lot of refugees being bused to the border,” Milena recalled. “At one point there were busloads of people staying wherever we could put a mattress. We made sandwiches for them and sorted the donated food as it was shipped across the border.”
“We were basically living among them,” Tymon added. “Medically, we were able to take their vital signs, and if they had allergic reactions to food, we helped out.”
The Meehans and their colleagues stayed several weeks in Poland. Whatever anxiety Kathy Meehan felt was offset by her son and daughter-in-law’s obvious commitment to the relief effort.
“Was I nervous for them? Sure,” Kathy admitted. “But they obviously were moved by everything that was going on and wanted to help. God put them in a place where they could do good.”
Using apps on their phones, Tymon and Milena were able to communicate with their family back in the United States. During one call, Kathy heard they would be unable to cross the border into Ukraine. “I wasn’t unhappy about that,” she said half-jokingly.
Tymon said his desire to assist the refugees came from an understanding of Christian service learned from his parents that was reinforced during his years at St. John’s. Kathy maintained it came within Tymon and Milena themselves.
“As a parent, you always hope that what you do by example is stronger even than anything you just say to your children,” Kathy said. “But this was their personal journey. They wanted to do something.”
Tymon and Milena now live in Manhasset, NY, thousands of miles from the shelling in Ukraine, but still close enough to be impacted by it emotionally.
Comfortably back at home, the Meehans said they would consider another refugee visit. That is more of a challenge now, however, as months of shelling, coupled with fierce Ukrainian resistance, has leveled much of the nation’s infrastructure and made exiting the country more difficult for the refugees.
However, that has not dimmed their eagerness to serve those impacted by the war.
“I’ve been a police officer a long time and I’ve seen a lot of stuff, but then you see these people who have lost everything and have no more physical possessions,” Tymon reflected. “It is on a different scale, and they smile because someone gives them a sandwich. It reinforces what ought to be most important.”