The owner of a central coast container company is leading an on-the-ground humanitarian effort in Poland for Ukrainian refugees displaced by the most recent Russian military invasion of Ukraine.
Jake Knotts, owner of Midstate Containers in Santa Maria, Calif., began his trip to Kraków, Poland on Friday, Feb. 25, just hours after the build-up of over 150,000 Russian troops started their invasion of Ukraine. Jake Knotts and his wife, Anya, have deep roots in the country. Jake spent over 10 years there while Anya, whom Jake met there during his stint as a missionary and later married, was born and raised in Kyiv, Ukraine and has family members spread throughout the country. So the motivation for dropping everything at a moment's notice to fly halfway across the world was simple: Family.
But what started as a haphazard plan to rush to secure temporary housing for family members heading west to Poland to flee violence evolved into a grassroots humanitarian effort meant to aid any who need it.
"We're here trying to help our friends get places to stay once they get here," Jake Knotts said on his personal Instagram page where he has been providing updates on his experiences. "We're renting Airbnbs. I've been going to the border and shuttling some of them [refugees], there's a local church here that is putting people up; we have a group of people in a hotel."
Jake has been coordinating with others in the region, including friends in neighboring countries, to provide shelter, food, and transportation, among other things. Anya, who originally stayed behind in the U.S., will be joining her husband in the humanitarian efforts.
The Knotts have started an online fundraiser through GoFundMe, which has raised over $37,000 of their stated $75,000 goal. According to the fundraiser, those funds will go to two overarching objectives. The first is to provide immediate shelter to refugees, coming in the form of Airbnbs, hotels, and other short-term rentals. The second is to provide transportation and logistics to those who have family or friends willing to take them in, either in Poland or across other European countries.
"The second thing I've been doing is helping coordinate with other people that are trying to get people out," Knotts said. "Or once they're out, trying to get them to a country where they know somebody or have a relative or a friend or somebody that will take them in."
"I picked up four people this morning at the border — a mom with two kids, a 9-month-old and a 10-year-old. They literally had backpacks and nothing else other than what was in that backpack," Knotts said.
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees — a UN agency meant to support and protect refugees — has estimated that over 1,000,000 Ukrainians have been displaced since the start of the invasion. That number is expected to significantly rise as the Russian military continues to escalate its offensive, which has included indiscriminate shelling of civilians and critical infrastructure. An estimated 2,000 civilians have been killed since the start of the war, according to Ukrainian emergency services.
"There are going to be a lot of longer-term needs," Knotts said. "We're basically just finding places for people to recover and get on their feet. They're going to need clothing and other stuff. ...This is going to be something a lot of people are going to have to come together on and help folks."