Two Americans meet on a plane to Poland then join forces to help Ukrainian refugees
“What we have here is a humanitarian crisis unlike we’ve seen in a while,” volunteer Zohar Swaine said in a telephone interview Thursday afternoon, March 24. The New York City-born former United States Marine said he, along with many others, felt a sense of duty that compelled him to pack a suitcase and head to Poland on his own dime to help refugees pouring into Poland from war-torn Ukraine.
Swaine, a business consultant from New Jersey, said goodbye to his wife and two teens about 10 days ago, before flying to Krakow, Poland to see what he could offer in assistance to refugees fleeing Ukraine. Fortuitously, he met fellow American Stan Brooks, a former Front Royal mayor and town councilman, now of Charlottesville, Virginia, on a flight from Munich to Krakow. Both were headed to Poland to help, though neither was affiliated with a rescue group or organization.
Upon arrival, Swaine made his way to the border and Sauveteurs Sans Frontières, SSF (“Rescuers Without Borders” from French to English), a French/Israeli organization that provides humanitarian aid across the globe. As a former U.S. Marine who had deployed during the Gulf War, he knew he had some skills that would help with the refugee relocation effort.
Brooks wasn’t sure how he could best help, but after three days of not finding a role in the effort, he felt fundraising was the best way to help those in need. By simply asking for help, the pledges of support came rolling in from friends. Before a week had passed, Brooks had collected around $11,000. Brooks said, one Winchester physician and his wife donated $1,000 and offered to house a Ukrainian family when refugees begin entering the U.S.
Those funds were used to directly help refugees who entered Poland. Some of those with dire needs, typically the elderly and mothers with young children, received $100 dollars in hand. Swaine said many of the refugees were dressed in threadbare coats and carried their belongings in plastic bags.
Others benefitted from one of the 300 rolling bags purchased with donated funds. Several hundred dollars were used to purchase plywood, to put down on dirt floors prior to expected rain. Swaine purchased 100 raincoats, anticipating a weekend rain. Other items bought with donated money include air mattresses, blankets, and children’s supplies; $1,200 was spent on medical supplies, additional money went to replenish the food pantry. A special donation of $1,000 was gifted to an elderly Ukrainian couple who are awaiting a visa appointment to obtain entry into the U.S.
Swaine has spent most of his time near Medyka, Poland, an area near the border with Ukraine. It’s a sleepy little town that, in recent weeks, has seen roughly 1.5 million refugees pass through its gates. Swaine, armed with a wheelchair and another volunteer with a shopping cart full of items such as water bottles, juice boxes, chocolate for the children, mylar rescue blankets, and first-aid supplies have sought out the most vulnerable Ukrainians to help.
As noted above, the elderly and mothers with small children were those needing the most help, Swaine said. It’s 49 miles between Lviv, Ukraine, and Medyka across the Polish border. Some refugees were able to get bus rides to the border; others walked.
“We would generally look for the very elderly – folks who maybe needed to be in a wheelchair – who may have just gotten off a bus or somehow made the day’s walk from the city of Lviv to the border crossing. Especially when we were coming into the late afternoon, we could assist by bringing those highly vulnerable people across the border by skipping to the head of the line. It’s 30-degrees outside, and some needed to be in a better place quickly,” Swaine explained.
The Medyka Crossing Area
After crossing the border, the refugees arrive at the Medyka Crossing area. The first stop is at a heated tent that has cots, hot meals, electricity, phone charging stations, a breastfeeding station for mothers, a play area for children. The tents are guarded to ensure that the refugees are safe from predators, including human traffickers.
Refugees were able to stay as long as needed, from a few hours to a few days. Many of the refugees had arranged to meet up with friends or relatives, then travel to another location.
Swaine said that while volunteering, he wore many hats, serving as, “a hotel manager, a procurer of supplies, kindergarten teacher, and even a janitor,” – and that was fine with him. “If you are looking for glory, you will not find it as a volunteer,” he observed.
Crossing the border can be a time-consuming process, Swaine noted. Though officials spend about a minute, on average, processing each refugee, there were only three lines to service the 50 to 700 people waiting, depending on the time of day.
Swaine observed that the refugees are generally still “shell-shocked” and seem, at times, to be overwhelmed. But their demeanor changes almost immediately upon entering Poland, he said.
After crossing the border and traveling a few hundred yards to the gate outside the rescue center, there is a flurry of activity: “a man in a costume who wants to hug you, candy for the kids, there is a tray of hot tea, pizza being offered,” Swaine explained. As time passes, he says the ratio of volunteers is shifting. As more volunteers show up and the numbers of refugees drop, there sometimes seem to be more volunteers than those needing help.
The refugees seem weary, he said, after having made a perilous journey that sometimes lasted weeks.
In the space of 200 yards, there are probably 50-60 additional tents along the corridor, and each has its own specialty. There is a tent for pets that includes food and supplies; a tent designed for mothers and young children, with diapers and baby food; there were several World Central Kitchen tents with food; other tents with free sim cards and minutes for cell phones.
After traveling through the corridor refugees are led to an area where buses sit, ready to take them to a former shopping mall converted to a help center, or to a train station in Przemysl, about 30 miles away for travel across Europe if they have destinations through relatives, friends, or other contacts. In that facility, owned by the British company Tesco PLC, areas of the mall have been converted into a shelter, with cots, a large kitchen serving meals, medical treatment, and other services that might be needed. There are also volunteers who help refugees without a plan to figure out their next steps.
Swaine shared that the Polish citizens have been gracious throughout the influx of over a million refugees, working selflessly to improve the lives of those who have lost so much. Though planning to head home to New Jersey in a few days, he said he would return to Poland because the actions of Poland’s citizens have endeared the country to him.
Brooks, who has since left Poland, wrote in an email that “It was somewhat fateful that Zohar and I met on the plane from Munich to Krakow. We were two people who felt that they had to do something.” Brooks had high praise for his new friend Zodar Swaine, saying, “He did all the heavy lifting. I was nothing more than a fundraiser. But I am glad that I could do something. Like it or not, this war is about more than Ukraine,” Brooks observed of a growing international consensus, adding, “It is about democracy and the freedoms that it allows and about reality over fake reality – the reality created by sociopaths like Putin, using the latest in technology to brainwash an entire nation. Something that in America we are not immune to.”
Has Russia’s leader – who has cemented unchallengeable authoritarian rule over the past 20 years through “black ops” * methodologies learned as a KGB agent and chief – bitten off more than he, or perhaps his nation, can swallow this time?
For there appears to be a rising tide of opposition expressed by Russians, even at home who are now under threat of arrest for simply publicly appearing at an anti-war rally, or even calling Russia’s invasion of Ukraine a “war”. Even Russia’s oligarchs, the rich corporate and industrialist insiders handed the wealth owned by the Soviet State until the early 1990s collapse of the Soviet Union, are believed to be expressing some discontent as international sanctions, not to mention the specter of an expanded international war front, damage their wealth and security.
But a push toward historic regime change in Russia will rely on continued and escalating international cooperation — the kind of cooperation Zohar Swaine and Stan Brooks experienced on the volunteer front lines in Poland. Though rather than individual commitments born of conscience, it must be the conscience of nations at work in support of national sovereignty and independence from neighboring expansionist, totalitarian dictators.
Is the world up to it?
Are Russia’s institutional elites up to it?
* FOOTNOTE – “black ops” methodologies: Lies about opponents, domestic or foreign; the imprisonment of those domestic political, media, or cultural sources who would challenge him, not to mention their murder, even on foreign soil.
(Roger Bianchini contributed to this story)
Former FRPD Chief Richard Furr remembered fondly
A Celebration of Life and Memorial Service for former Front Royal Police Chief Richard Furr was held Sunday afternoon, March 19th on the eve of the Spring Equinox, at Riverton United Methodist Church. Friends and colleagues – often both – and family bid a fond farewell to a friend and servant to his community and his family. Furr passed away February 27 at the age of 66.
Scheduled speakers in order of appearance included Chaplain Jackie Thurston of the Virginia State Lodge of the Fraternal Order of Police, Chaplain Roger Vorous of the Warren County Sheriff’s Office, Captain, retired, Clint Keller formerly of the Front Royal Police Department, Sgt., retired, Jim Nicholson formerly of the Page County Sheriff’s Office, and U.S. Army Sgt. First Class Richard “Ricky” Furr Jr., son of the departed. A free, catered meal at the church, provided by employees of Samuels Public Library, awaited attendees following the ceremony.
As noted in his Obituary, the Page County born-and-raised Furr: “reached the pinnacle of his (law enforcement) career in 2009 when he was appointed Chief of Police (in Front Royal where he had served since 1982). Although Richard retired from duty in 2012, he remained active in law enforcement by continuing to serve in the Fraternal Order of Police at local and state levels. Richard is survived by his wife, Ruth; children, Richard “Ricky” Jr. (Amy) and Danielle; mother-in-love, Willie; sister-in-love, Robin (Gary); and half-siblings, Brenda (Larry), Christine (Jack), and David (Lori).”
The family has created a website for those who knew Richard to share stories and memories. It can be accessed at richardfurr.wixsite.com/memories.
Rest In Peace, Richard Harvey Furr Sr.
Warren County Public Schools Kindergarten registration information for the 2023-2024 school year
This is a reminder to parents with children that will be 5 years old on or before September 30, 2023.
- Children who will be 5 years old on or before September 30, 2023
*Register at the school in which you are zoned to attend
WHERE AND WHEN:
Starting March 27, 2023 – Register online @ www.wcpsva.org
- March 28, 2023
4:30 pm – 6:30 pm
Individual Elementary Schools – *Register at the school in which your child is zoned to attend
WHAT TO BRING:
- Certified Copy of Birth Certificate
- Parent/Guardian Photo ID
- Physical Form (physical must be within the last 12 months prior to the first day of school)
- Proof of Residence (utility bill, lease, mortgage statement)
- A notarized residency affidavit is required if living in another household
PLEASE REGISTER YOUR CHILD EVEN IF ALL OF THE ABOVE INFORMATION HAS NOT BEEN OBTAINED.
If you have any questions, please call your child’s school:
A.S. Rhodes Elementary School 540-635-4556
E. Wilson Morrison Elementary School 540-635-4188
Hilda J. Barbour Elementary School 540-622-8090
Leslie Fox Keyser Elementary School 540-635-3125
Ressie Jeffries Elementary School 540-636-6824
Amy Himes (540) 635-2171, extension 46125
Kendall Poe (540) 635-2171, extension 34230
Belle Grove Plantation opens for the 2023 season
On Saturday, March 18, Belle Grove Plantation will reopen daily to the public. Guided tours of the Manor House are offered Monday-Saturday, 10 a.m.-4 p.m., and Sunday, 1-5 p.m. at 15 minutes past each hour. The Belle Grove grounds and the Beverley B. Shoemaker Welcome Center (including the Museum Shop and exhibits) are also open during these hours.
Manor House tours include touring the permanent exhibit, Unearthing Enslaved Lives at Belle Grove, which features the archaeology conducted at the Enslaved Quarter Site from 2015 to 2019. The 60,000 excavated artifacts and supporting archival research reveal details about the more than 270 men, women, and children the Hite family enslaved.
Also, on Saturday, March 18, Belle Grove will open a .75-mile walking trail that connects to existing trails on Cedar Creek Battlefield Foundation’s property. Visitors may start the trail either at Belle Grove or the 128th New York Monument (on Route 11 near the intersection with Water Plant Road). The path is largely wooded and follows trenches dug by the US 19th Corps as they prepared for a possible attack. This ultimately happened in the initial stages of the Battle of Cedar Creek on October 19, 1864. Hikers on the Belle Grove property should follow the yellow blazes along the trail. A map is posted at the trailhead and will be available in the Museum Shop.
In addition to offering daily tours, Belle Grove hosts school and group tours, event rentals, and special events. Belle Grove has a full schedule of events for 2023, including the “Of Ale and History” Beer Festival on May 13. Now in its 28th year, this festival is Virginia’s longest-running Beer Festival, and tickets will go on sale in April. For more information about Belle Grove events, visit www.bellegrove.org/calendar
As a partner in Cedar Creek and Belle Grove National Historical Park, Belle Grove is the site of free, 30-minute programs led by National Park Rangers. Cedar Creek & Belle Grove in a Box gives an overview of the Park at 11:30 a.m. on Saturdays, March 18 and April 8, and at 2:30 p.m. on Sundays, March 26 and April 2. Kneading in Silence: A Glimpse into the Life of the Enslaved Cook Judah, which discusses the life of Judah, the enslaved cook of Belle Grove, will be presented on Sunday, March 19, and Saturday, March 25, at 2:30 p.m. More information about the Park is at www.nps.gov/cebe.
About Belle Grove—Belle Grove Plantation is located off Route 11 at 336 Belle Grove Road just south of Middletown, Virginia, and is conveniently situated to I-81 (exit 302) and I-66. Belle Grove Plantation is a non-profit historic house museum, a National Trust for Historic Preservation historic site (www.savingplaces.org). It is also one of the partners in Cedar Creek and Belle Grove National Historical Park (www.nps.gov/cebe).
VDOT: Warren County Traffic alert for March 20 – 24, 2023
The following is a list of highway work that may affect traffic in Warren County during the coming weeks. Scheduled work is subject to change due to inclement weather and material supplies. Motorists are advised to watch for slow-moving tractors during mowing operations. When traveling through a work zone, be alert to periodic changes in traffic patterns and lane closures.
*NEW* or *UPDATE* indicates a new or revised entry since last week’s report.
Mile markers 6 to 13, eastbound and westbound – Single lane closures for maintenance to various bridges, 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. through Friday.
Mile marker 299 to 300, northbound and southbound – Overnight single lane closures for equipment moving and bridge removal work, 8 p.m. to 7 a.m. through the night of April 27.
*NEW* Route 340/522 (Winchester Road) – Northbound and southbound overnight shoulder closures for vegetation management between Route 661 (Fairground Road) and Clarke County line, Tuesday and Wednesday nights from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m.
No lane closures were reported.
Vegetation management may take place district-wide on various routes. Motorists are reminded to use extreme caution when traveling through work zones.
Traffic alerts and traveler information can be obtained by dialing 511. Traffic alerts and traveler information also are available at www.511Virginia.org.
The VDOT Customer Service Center can assist with reporting road hazards, asking transportation questions, or getting information about Virginia’s roads. Call 800-FOR-ROAD (800-367-7623) or use its mobile-friendly website at my.vdot.virginia.gov. Agents are available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
New leader approved for Blue Ridge Tech Center; new school choice position adopted
The Warren County School Board, during its Wednesday, March 15 work session, unanimously voted to approve the appointment of a new director/principal for the Blue Ridge Technical Center (BRTC) and likewise adopted legislative positions that the board wants the Virginia School Boards Association (VSBA) to institute.
School Board Chair Kristen Pence and board members Antoinette Funk, Andrea Lo, and Melanie Salins were present for the votes, while Vice Chair Ralph Rinaldi was absent from the meeting.
Warren County Public Schools (WCPS) Superintendent Christopher Ballenger recommended Vince Gregg be appointed as the BRTC director/principal starting on July 1 to replace the current leader, Jane Baker, who retires on June 30.
Gregg has been employed by WCPS since 2008, when he was hired as a social studies teacher at Skyline High School, where he then became dean of students in 2011, serving in that capacity until joining Warren County High School as an assistant principal two years ago, according to Ballenger.
“Mr. Gregg has shown outstanding leadership qualities within our division,” Ballenger said, noting that there will be an overlap in duties during July, with Gregg coming in and Baker finishing out her duties.
Following the board’s approval of Ballenger’s recommendation, Gregg thanked the members for their support.
“I feel like the luckiest guy in the school system,” Gregg said. “I’ve admired the good work done by the staff of the Blue Ridge Tech Center and all of our CTE teachers for the last 15 years.
“I think we all go into this line of work in order to help kids and help set them on the right path in life, to show them a viable route to honest employment and the happiness that follows hard work and a plan for the future,” he added. “I don’t think there’s a group of people who do this better than our [CTE] teachers, and I am humbled and beyond excited to join their team.”
The School Board also unanimously voted to approve WCPS legislative positions related to the VSBA’s Support for Private Education, Vouchers, and Tax Credits; the State School Health Advisory Committee; and Disorderly Conduct for School-Based Offenses.
Specifically, the School Board would like to see their adopted legislative positions likewise adopted by the VSBA in its legislative policies.
For instance, the VSBA currently opposes federal or state efforts to mandate school choice, including efforts to divert or condition funding from existing federal and state programs.
The School Board’s position now states that “VSBA will remain neutral on federal or state efforts to allow school choice.”
Also, in this section on Support for Private Education, Vouchers, and Tax Credits, the School Board would like to see this deleted from the VSBA legislative policy: “Private and home schools have no direct accountability to taxpayers for their use of tax revenues because they are explicitly excluded from public accountability under both state and federal law. With vouchers and tuition tax credits, private and home schools would have an advantage in competition with public schools because they can be selective in admissions and can refuse to provide services that public schools, by law, must provide. Vouchers and tuition tax credits for private and home schools could result in fewer existing state and federal funds appropriated to support public school programs. The VSBA opposes any federal or state voucher and tuition tax credit legislation and any legislation that would provide vouchers or tuition tax credits for elementary and secondary private and homeschooled school students. The VSBA also opposes measures requiring the transfer of local taxpayer funds to other jurisdictions or to private providers should a student choose to enroll in a virtual program outside of their home school division.”
On its agenda, the School Board listed its reasoning for the changes in this section: “The generalized belief and reason we have public education is because, as a society, we recognize that education is important to our future, and we are willing to work together to make sure all children receive a quality education. As we progress, we have learned to appreciate and respect the wide array of learning styles and needs. We are past the point of one size fits all education and need to continue to expand the methods and opportunities available. As voters elect representatives and call on them to expand school choice opportunities through newly proposed legislation, it is counterproductive for the VSBA to lobby to kill such bills. Expanding opportunities for others does not mean lesser opportunities for local school districts.”
Prior to the board’s vote to adopt the WCPS legislative positions, Warren County resident Bertha Jenkins (above) told members it was “disappointing and concerning” that the School Board was voting to amend and remove the legislative positions adopted by the VSBA.
“The same School Board took an oath of office to the Virginia Constitution,” said Jenkins, “and nowhere in the Virginia Constitution does it say free parental school choice for private education or homeschooling while disenfranchising your fellow taxpayer that has no child and infringing on your First Amendment right to petition government for redress of grievances.”
Jenkins said she “never imagined” she would have to address a public education school board to remind members of their constitutional duty to the public education system.
“School choice should never have a seat at the table in public education,” she said. “School choice is a private education choice by parents funded by taxpayers at the expense of the public education system. Parents already have the right to choose what education best suits their child.”
Jenkins also said that she has observed “the systematic tearing down” and dismantling of the public education system in Warren County by local officials, political candidates, politicians, parents, religious groups, special interest groups, “and now our School Board.”
“Vote to continue to support VSBA and their legislative positions that were originally presented to this court, not the amended or omitted [proposals] that are on this action agenda,” she urged board members. “Remember your oath and be a champion for public education.”
Nevertheless, the board unanimously voted to adopt the WCPS legislative positions.
Prior to their vote, board member Salins said there was “a misunderstanding” about what VSBA is and then provided what she called “a quick reminder” that VSBA is a lobbying group that is funded by tax dollars.
According to the VSBA — which is a nonpartisan, voluntary organization of Virginia school boards — the organization has as one of its goals “to advocate effectively for Virginia’s public schools and children before all levels of government and the public.”
Additionally, the VSBA also provides a variety of services, such as governance training, policy services, legal services, superintendent search assistance, collective bargaining services, and strategic planning services, among others. The organization also consists of several task forces, such as the VSBA Task Force on Students and Schools in Challenging Environments, that make recommendations to the Virginia Board of Education and the state Department of Education on a variety of topics.
Salins said VSBA’s legislative positions are not legally binding laws and that the Warren County School Board is “not amending laws, changing laws, or doing anything else. We are simply requesting that they stop lobbying against the actual state representation, who are the elected officials to speak on behalf of the taxpayers.”
“None of this in any way, shape, or form is a means by which to undermine the public school system,” she said. “It’s actually to provide for the sustainability of it and make sure the parental rights are intact.”
In another action, the School Board approved the Architect and Engineering (A&E) design cost of $20,850 to replace the Blue Ridge Technical Center roof. The project will be funded by federal government grants.
The board also unanimously approved the Interagency Agreement between WCPS and RSW Regional Jail. The agreement establishes the guidelines and areas of responsibility between WCPS and RSW Regional Jail for the provision of special education and related services to eligible inmates.
Click here to view the work session in its entirety on this exclusive Royal Examiner video.
Rappahannock resident arrested after investigation by the Blue Ridge Narcotics and Gang Task Force
The Blue Ridge Narcotics and Gang Task Force has concluded a two-month long investigation with the arrest of a Rappahannock County, Virginia resident. Keith D. Robinson II, 20, was arrested by the Blue Ridge Narcotics and Gang Task Force following a search warrant executed at a residence in Culpeper. Through the course of the investigation, Blue Ridge Narcotics and Gang Task Force officers learned that Robinson was involved with distribution of illegal narcotics in the counties of Rappahannock and Culpeper.
On Thursday (March 9), members of the Blue Ridge Narcotics and Gang Task Force obtained a search warrant for a residence located along Nancy B Williams Drive in Culpeper County. During a search of the residence, approximately 27 grams of powder cocaine, 13 grams of methamphetamine, 13 grams of crack cocaine, 13 grams of fentanyl, prescription pills, $3,163 in currency, and a vehicle were seized. The drugs seized have an approximate street value of $7,900.
Robinson was charged with five felony counts of distribution of a schedule I/II drug. Robinson was transported to the Culpeper County Jail where he is being held without bond.
The Blue Ridge Narcotics and Gang Task Force is composed of law enforcement personnel from the Rappahannock, Culpeper, Fauquier, Orange, Madison Sheriff’s Offices; Culpeper, Warrenton, Orange Police Departments; and the Virginia State Police Bureau of Criminal Investigation, Culpeper Field Office.
Wind: 2mph S
UV index: 2