Blue Bomber free agent now in Poland steps up to help those escaping from Ukraine

A two-time Grey Cup champion with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers is now in Poland, where he’s helping people escape the violence in Ukraine.

Thiadric Hansen, a 29-year-old German-born linebacker and special-teams ace, is now helping organize buses taking refugees from Warsaw to Hamburg, Germany.

From there, refugees connect with a group that helps get them flights and accommodations, and provides them with internet access.

Hansen, now a free agent after helping Winnipeg win the 2019 and 2021 championships, was already in Poland, and says he was at the gym working out when he realized he wanted to do something to help those affected by the conflict.

“I just saw a post [on social media]. I said, ‘OK, I’m going to post also about it.’ And then I thought to myself, ‘You know, in Poland, I’m pretty close to the border. Maybe I can do do a little bit more,'” he told CBC News Network host Aarti Pole.

“I can’t really tell what was the motivation to actually do more than just post, but it was just … a feeling of ‘OK, I’ll do this,’ and I never did it before.”

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is now in its third week.

The military offensive widened on Friday, striking near airports in the west of the country for the first time as troops kept up pressure on the capital, Kyiv.

Much of Hansen’s work in Poland has been focused on helping international students leaving Ukraine, some of whom have reported facing racial discrimination and other challenges while trying to escape the conflict. 

Refugees fleeing the conflict in Ukraine at the Medyka pedestrian border crossing, in eastern Poland, on Feb. 27, 2022. Some international students leaving Ukraine have reported facing racial discrimination and other challenges while trying to escape. (Wojtek Radwanski/AFP/Getty Images)

For example, Ukrainians are being offered free train travel in Poland if they have a Ukrainian passport, but that’s not an option for students who were born in another country, he said. 

“Some of the students maybe have family somewhere, but they just can’t go right now because they have no Wi-Fi, they have no internet. They have no access to really connect with their family,” he said.

But when they get to Hamburg, “they have a better opportunity to connect, maybe to go back to their home country or even with family over in Europe,” Hansen said.

He’s avoided asking people he encounters about what they had to go through to get out of Ukraine, but says he can tell just by looking at them they’ve been through an extremely difficult experience.

Refugees fleeing war in neighboring Ukraine arrive at the Medyka border crossing, on March 10. (Daniel Cole/Associated Press)

He said he’s seen families who have nothing but a backpack of items with them, or people walking in torn-up clothing and slippers. 

“Some people literally … have their house bombed and left the country,” he said. 

“I can’t really tell you inside some stories because I don’t want to ask people what happened. They just seem happy to go to a place where they can reconnect with families.”

Hansen said monetary donations are best for those who want to help Ukrainians, because items are difficult to transport. 

He suggested doing some research on organizations that help people directly, adding that there are many people in Poland who are stepping up that could use some support. 

“So many people want to help. It’s amazing to see, like here in Poland — they do so much right now.”

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