ashland.news
May 26, 2024

‘Where I’m needed the most’: Ashland teacher to spend summer in Ukraine

Ashland High School history teacher Paul Huard points to a map of Ukraine. Ashland.news photo by Holly Dillemuth
April 5, 2023

Paul Huard, who spent last summer helping in Poland, seeks community support for trip to country invaded a year ago by Russia

By Holly Dillemuth, Ashland.news

Paul Huard unfolded a map of Ukraine and looked intently at the yellow picture of the eastern European country, scanning for potential places he might be stationed during a service trip this summer.

Huard said he’ll likely be stationed in the Urainian capital of Kyiv (KEE’-yeev). He emphasized he will not go to the frontlines, but where he goes, his hope is that it’s “where I’m need the most,” he said.

“I can’t stress this enough, I don’t want to be there if I can’t help,” Huard said. “I’m not a war tourist.”

While not a war tourist, he has a history background that also provides context for his placement.

Huard teaches history at Ashland High School. He spent the summer of 2022 in Przemysl, Poland, near the border of Ukraine, helping Ukrainian refugees at a train station carry their bags and luggage — sometimes all they owned in the world, many of them women who had left husbands and sons behind to fight for their country’s sovereignty. 

This time he’s returning not to Poland but to its war-torn neighbor, Ukraine, and is open to serving wherever the largest need lies.

“There are people dying and they need help,” Huard said, “… in the worst war on the European continent since World War II.

“So, I want to help,” he added.

Huard said after coming home from Poland, he learned that, “You can’t save everybody.”

But he can help the person in front of him. 

“And that’s what I’m going to do,” Huard said.

“Ukraine has become a magnet for, dare I say, people like me. People from all over the world that want to go and help, even fight,” he added.

Huard said roughly 10,000 foreign soldiers have enlisted to fight for Ukraine. While Huard isn’t among their number, he’s proud to join the ranks of international volunteers from all over the world, including those from Canada and New Zealand.

What might Huard be doing as a volunteer where he is stationed?

Huard said the need is high for drivers, who transport supplies from the border of Poland into Ukraine. There are certainly other jobs he might be tasked to do as well, such as working in a volunteer kitchen to help prepare and serve food, or working in a supply warehouse.

Ashland High School history teacher Paul Huard in his home office last summer. Ashland.news photo by Holly Dillemuth

What will he bring with him?

“Medical supplies is probably the best way to put it,” he said. 

Among his personal belongings, he’ll carry a pocket knife, a flashlight, a liter of water, and a trauma kit.

Huard is aware of the danger of going to Ukraine and plans to keep his head on a “swivel.”

“Where I will be, let’s just say the chances of me being hurt are still statistically low,” he said.

“But, I’m closer to a war. It’s going to be a bit edgier. But, again, that’s where the people need the help.”

He showed the reporter his iPhone with the air raid alerts he’s already subscribed to on his phone.

“I could just be in the wrong place at the wrong time,” Huard said. “I will always carry a small go bag with me, wherever I go.”

As a tactic to keep him safer, Huard won’t be posting online or sharing his location on his phone. But he will be in touch constantly with his family via the Telegram app.

Huard emphasized he’s not a “fatalist,” will not be carrying a weapon, and will not be fighting for Ukraine.

“I don’t have a death wish,” Huard said. “I really think I’m coming home in one piece, I truly do.”

But he does acknowledge there is danger.

“It is a calculated risk to be there,” he said. “And it’s a country that gets routinely attacked by bombing missile attacks.”

“I feel more at risk in the United States than I will in Ukraine, under current circumstances,” he added. “I feel, in some ways, there’s less risk there than there is here.”

He plans to speak at his church on a Sunday during May about his upcoming trip.

Huard’s Christian faith is his “chief motivation” in wanting to volunteer to help those in Ukraine.

“It’s something I believe I should do,” Huard said. “It’s the right thing thing to do.”

He said his church family is completely supportive of him. 

“I couldn’t do this if it weren’t true, and, again, I just hope I can be helpful,” Huard said.

He said he’s planning the trip based on the amount of financial support he draws in from the community.

“I see a lot of Ukrainian flags flown here in town,” Huard said. “I know there is immense empathy and sympathy for the Ukrainian people. So if people would like to turn that empathy and sympathy into action, I’m willing to do that on their behalf. The people who are backing me are part of the team.”

Huard said must raise the money by the first week of May in order to buy a plane ticket. He plans to stay for five to seven weeks. He would leave for the trip shortly after school lets out in late June.

“So, yes, I would be giving up my summer vacation,” Huard said.

To learn more about Huard’s story and plans to travel to Ukraine, go online to his GoFundMe page here: gofundme.com/f/help-paul-aid-ukrainian-war-victims-this-summer.

As of April 4, Huard had received six donations, totalling $1,500 toward his $5,000 goal.

Send comments, questions, story ideas to Ashland.news reporter Holly Dillemuth at hollyd@ashland.news.

April 5 update: Story corrected to more accurately reflect Paul Huard’s prospective itinerary.

Picture of Bert Etling

Bert Etling

Bert Etling is the executive editor of Ashland.news. Email him at betling@ashland.news.

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