HILTON, N.Y. (WROC) — “A living nightmare.” That is how one Hilton family describes the past few weeks.
The Nowicki family is constantly waiting for the next time they get to speak to Oleksii, the 11-year-old Ukranian boy they’re in the process of adopting. News 8 first covered the Nowicki family in February.
Over Christmas, they hosted Oleksii through Host Orphans Worldwide, a non-profit orphan hosting ministry. They quickly fell in love with him and decided they wanted to make him a permeant part of their family.
However, until the adoption process is finalized, Oleksii had to go back to Ukraine. A few weeks later, Russia invaded.
“We’ve heard from him a few times, but because internet and WiFi have either been down or been hard to come by, we’ve only been able to communicate with him fairly sporadically,” said Melissa Nowicki, the potential adoptive mother of Oleksii. “When we do hear from him, it’s usually very short-lived before he’s gone again.”
When the war began, Oleksii and his orphanage were moved to a bomb shelter and then to a different area of Ukraine for a few days. Shortly after, they started making their way to Poland via train.
This week, Melissa was happy to share that Oleksii had arrived safely in Poland and was staying in a hotel.
“From the time the war started, up until we found out that he was out of Ukraine, I felt like I was just in knots,” she said. “Once we found out that he had crossed over and safely made it into another country, we felt such a huge relief and a huge weight and burden had been lifted off.”
Melissa adds that she knows the journey is far from over, but it has been made a little easier knowing Oleksii is out of harm’s way.
While in Poland, Oleksii’s orphanage has been getting support from numerous organizations. One of the organizations is a non-profit called Guardians of Hope and it happens to be located in Rochester.
“Our whole purpose is to bring hope to the hopeless, and what better opportunity to bring hope to the hopeless than to come to Ukraine,” said Cameron Knaub, President, and Co-Founder of Guardians of Hope.
Cameron Knaub and his friend, Roman Bosak, traveled from Hilton to Ukraine after the war began. Bosak has family in the country.
“I was able to speak to them and see how things are going and you can hear the concern in their voices, you understand the severity of the bombings that went off in the first few days, and being in America and not having an opportunity to really do anything about it… it really bothered me,” Bosak said.
Bosak, Knaub, and a few other men traveled to Ukraine to help support locals and refugees. For a week, they did whatever they could to help others.
“Every day was a challenge every day, we faced something without really knowing what we’re going to get into, but everything worked out,” Bosak said. “You meet a lot of great people that are ready to give their last to help other people.”
He adds there were days when they didn’t sleep because they were so busy, but they were thankful to be able to meet such incredible individuals.
“We were able to network with a lot of people, a lot of churches, lots of volunteers, and we’re trying to help them get those people out of those basements, help them to fund whatever they need to be funded to get the people out, and then get them into a place of refuge on the western side of Ukraine, get them fed, and then get them to the border where other countries like Poland, open their arms and are taking these people in,” Bosak said.
After spending a week in Ukraine, Knaub and Bosak went to Poland to help. That’s where they met Oleksii and the other children in his orphanage.
Knaub said he connected with Melissa Nowicki before heading overseas because he saw Oleksii’s picture on a jar in a deli, as they were raising money for the adoption.
“I was able to get in connection with Melissa, his mother, and then just find out a little bit about their situation,” Knaub said. “It’s been kind of volatile and difficult. Obviously, you can imagine taking a whole group of children that are orphans, and now they’re refugees as well, from a very difficult situation.”
On Wednesday, Guardians of Hope dropped off food, games, and toys to Oleksii and the kids staying at the hotel. They were even able to connect Oleksii and the Nowicki family via phone.
“We were able to talk with Melissa and FaceTime with her and her whole family and their dogs and to see the smile on a little boy’s face was worth every mile to get here,” Knaub said.
Knaub said it was incredible to see how much support and to love the kids have from volunteers and those helping the orphanage.
“It was an amazing, amazing experience to see the group of people from the states, who’ve just traveled over and spent three weeks of their life away from their families to help this group of kids,” he said. “From the volunteers to the people that work there, they’ve rallied around and truly… they’re angels. They love those kids so, so much. It’s very special to see.”
Those with Guardians of Hope head back to Rochester on Thursday, but they have created the Ukrainian Relief Project to help those in the country.
In just two weeks, they raised over $150,000. You can read more about their efforts and how to donate by visiting the organization’s website.
You can also donate to the Nowicki family’s adoption of Oleksii on GoFundMe, by clicking here.