Former Prep Jesuit Helps Ukranian Refugees


Cayden Slobotski, Jay Journal Staff

Fr. Damian Czerniak,SJ is a former teacher and coach at Creighton Prep. After spending three years at Creighton Prep Czerniak decided to head back home to Poland. Less than a year after arriving home, Russia invaded Ukraine which caused Ukrainian citizens to flee their country to Poland. Cernziak and his Jesuit friends have opened up their homes and have been helping Ukrainian refugees who do not have a place to stay. 

Jay Journal: What were you doing before Russia invaded Ukraine?

Czerniak: Before Russia invaded Ukraine I was teaching Freshman Theology classes at a Jesuit High School, helping lead masses at my local Parish, and preparing students for their confirmation. I have also been finishing my educational leadership studies that I started at Creighton University back in Omaha.

Jay Journal: What have you been doing in Poland to help Ukrainian Refugees?

Czerniak: Once the war started, a group of Jesuits and I created a plan on how we were going to serve the refugees that would be arriving soon. Since they have arrived in Poland we have been helping them by supplying them with food, water, and shelter. In the community where I live we are currently housing two families, which includes two disabled teenagers. We are also expecting a mother with a child to arrive soon. We just had a family that stayed with us for a few weeks and then left to move to Germany. My community is one of many who is housing refugees. 

Jay Journal: Where are the rest of the refugees being housed?

Czerniak: The rest of the refugees are being housed in schools, churches, and in other Jesuit homes. In addition to serving the two families where I live, I am also helping at two houses owned by the Jesuits. The first house can hold up to 70 people and is occupied by mostly families. The second house is a smaller house that can hold up to 30 people. This house is occupied by women, single mothers and children. Both of these houses supply the refugees with food, medical supplies, clothing, and other necessities. Most of Refugees don’t know where they are going next. But many of the refugees want to stay as long as they can and then eventually go back to their country once the war is over. The refugees typically stay at these houses anywhere between 1 day to 2 months. After 2 months they are required by the government to find another place to live.

Jay Journal: What are some challenges you have faced serving the Refugees?

Czerniak: One of the main challenges we have faced is not being able to communicate with the refugees. Most of the refugees that come to Poland do not know English which makes it difficult to communicate with them. If they do not speak English or Polish they are not able to get a job which makes it difficult for them to stay in Poland.  

      Another issue we have faced is not having enough space for all of the refugees. Since the war started we have had 2.5 million people from Ukraine come to Poland. Because of the influx of refugees, the Polish government has turned to their citizens for help. The government has offered to pay citizens to house refugees in their homes. 

Jay Journal: What is the Jesuit Refugee Service?

Czerniak: The Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) is an organization founded 40 years ago that helps serve and support people that have fled from their country. The JRS focuses on fulfilling their needs as they come. The JRS’S goal for the refugees is to make them independent by  helping with legal documents, offering psychological health, help finding jobs, and finding a new place to live.

Jay Journal: How can Prep students and the Prep Community get involved?

Czerniak: Prep students and the Prep community can help us by praying. We really believe that there is power in prayer. We also appreciate all of the encouraging messages we receive. Serving the refugees is very exhausting and the support we receive from people around the world is what keeps us going. It’s also important that you educate yourself and make sure you know what is going on and as well as why it is happening.