Read about my first trip to Ukraine in wartime in the summer of 2022

I’ve just returned from filming in Przemyśl, Poland & Lviv, Ukraine. It was an intense shoot full of mixed emotions. We met many volunteers on both sides of the border, committed to helping Ukrainian refugees, including many Americans from places like Massachusetts, Georgia, Wisconsin, Michigan, California, DC, and more. We witnessed firsthand the great work organizations like World Central Kitchen, Unicef, and The Red Cross are doing.

I also witnessed first-hand the fear and trauma Ukrainians must go through daily as air-raid sirens forced us into bomb shelters at various times, day or night.

We met a particularly inspiring soldier, BMW (nickname), fresh from the front, who was recently injured and thankful for American support. He was on injury leave. He’d recently had three fingers blown off by a missile attack near the front.

He assured me that he felt his American donated flak jacket saved his and many fellow soldiers’ lives. His wife and children were with him. Their gratitude and his bravery were palpable. He was heading back to the front the following week.

Rob and Ukranian soldier

I met several refugees. One recent arrival was a young man of 17, on his own for the first time in his life and seemingly unmoored. The rest of his family remained behind in the fighting. I think our visit cheered him a bit.

I met another from Russian-occupied Maritopal who had recently escaped (bribed his way out).

Still, since his family remained behind, he couldn’t be on camera for fear of retribution. The stories he relayed to us off-camera (but with audio rolling were horrific).

Thanks to reconnecting with our friend Diana Borysenko of Diana Western Ukraine Tours (Season 7’s “Lovely Lviv”), we were able to revisit the Saints Peter & Paul Church where local soldiers’ funeral services are held.

Unlike in 2019, there are many more photos on the Memorials to accommodate the 200-300 soldiers perishing daily (reportedly at the time of our visit) and their tragically orphaned children.

This is the moment in the trip when officially my heart began to break.

Diana then drove us to the famous National Lychakiv Cemetery in Lviv, where they’ve recently had to add a massive Mars Field to accommodate all the freshly dead Ukrainian soldiers.

This part of the day was perhaps the most challenging of the entire shoot.

We witnessed grieving mothers, daughters, wives, girlfriends, sisters, and brothers at freshly dug graves. Tough.

Lychakiv Cemetery’s Mars Field

But there were good times too. Many. I was both surprised and inspired by the number of people committed to living life with as much Joy de Vivre as possible under such conditions and in between the occasional air-raid sirens.

In the end, we saw a country and people committed to pulling together for victory. It wasn’t all grief, fear, and sadness all the time. Ukrainians in Lviv seemed committed to showcasing some sense of normalcy. There were street performances daily, with joyful people dancing, clapping, and singing.

The line to cross back into Poland via car was days long, and the train tracks had been bombed so it was running behind as well. I had been told an on-foot crossing would be the fastest. I caught a ride from Lviv to the border with Poland with two friends of a friend back in NYC, who wouldn’t take a dime for even gas

I returned across the border on foot with thousands of Ukrainian refugee mothers and children escaping the war. We stood in line for 3.5 hours trying to get out of Ukraine.

Fortunately for me, as a US Passport holder, I could get into Poland much more quickly (in a matter of 20 minutes or so). Still, the poor Ukrainians had to stand out in the brutally hot, unprotected, blazing sun for God knows how much longer to get into Poland. Why there was no tent in the “no man’s land” section after leaving Ukraine to get into Poland is anybody’s guess but it was inhumane on this brutally hot day. I hope this has been fixed.

On the Polish side of the border, I caught a free ride to town with a kind Polish volunteer from Warsaw. He was working on his day off to help people like me and gave me a free ride into town to catch my bus from Przemysl. I took a relaxing bus back to Krakow to catch my flight home the next day (where Austrian Airlines promptly lost my luggage for almost a week).

Crossing the border on foot from Ukraine into Poland

Having caught covid in Paris and possibly breaking a toe or two (long- story and non-war related), I felt every bit of my age on this trip. Because I caught covid in Paris, I had to isolate and delay my trip to Ukraine by over a week. I was disappointed I couldn’t go deeper and stay longer as originally intended.

Still, I would not trade the experience for anything. Up until the last minute, I was trying my best to figure out how to extend the trip to get to Kyiv as initially planned. But alas, overland travel in Ukraine is slow and unpredictable. I had to be back in NYC to attend to business.

However, Anastasia, our uber-talented Ukrainian refugee Videographer, traveled to Kyiv to film a little and, most importantly, reunite with her mother, albeit briefly, before returning to Paris.

Anastasia reunites with Mom in Kyiv.

The unsung hero of the trip is the drone we brought from the USA to Ukraine that will help some Ukrainian soldiers surveil Russian troops more safely.

Ukrainian soldiers holding a drone

If you’d like to check out many more photos from our trip, please visit our Flickr album at the link here – https://flic.kr/s/aHBqjzZrcr

Here are trailers from the Season 10 episodes filmed during the 2022 trip to Ukraine: “Steadfast in Ukraine,” “Empathy Equals Strength,” and “The Incredible Lightness of Being with Ukraine.”