Ben Miller and Andrew Nichols
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A local Ukrainian priest and adjunct professor said that a simple Christmas promise ended up turning into a rescue mission of 22 orphans that brought him and his daughter to Ukraine.
The Rev. Jason Charron walked into his Eastern Christianity class Monday, March 7, to the sound of applause from several of his students. At the time, he was just two days returned from Ukraine, a country that became a warzone against the invasion of Russia in late February.
His daughter, junior Sophia Charron, also went overseas later in March to aid refugees on a separate trip.
A parishioner of Jason Charron’s, Allen Sherwood, was adopting a young girl from Kyiv, Ukraine. While she was visiting for Christmas, Sherwood said to her that if something ever were to happen, he would come and get her. Once the war broke out, Sherwood realized that he needed to follow through on his promise. The only problem was that he couldn’t speak Ukrainian.
Jason Charron, however, could.
Jason Charron was born in Canada where he first converted to Roman Catholicism. He lived in Ukraine from 1999-2002 and converted to the Ukrainian Byzantine church. He said he has deep ties to Ukraine; it is where he met his wife and where they had two of their seven children, including Sophia Charron.
“For (Sherwood) to go there alone, into a war zone, is a suicide mission,” he said. “So I said, ‘Hey if you’re going, I can come too.’”
With approval from his bishop and his wife, Jason Charron accompanied Sherwood to Ukraine. They flew first to Helsinki, Finland; then to Warsaw, Poland; and then traveled to the border city Lviv, Ukraine.
Shortly after, Jason Charron and Sherwood met up with the director of the orphanage and 22 orphans.
The director had driven from the orphanage in Kyiv, the capital state where the vast majority of the fighting was, to meet them — a drive that took twice as long as normal due to checkpoints.
Their journey out of Ukraine was made easier by the generosity of others. A seminary where Jason Charron used to work opened its doors at his request to house the group, now numbering over 40 people.
“I called (the vice rector) up and said, ‘Hey babe, you better open those doors,’” he joked.
From there, the bus drove seven hours only to find their destination crowded with refugees. They drove another eight hours through the night to the Czech Republic, where Jason Charron called in a big favor with a priest friend of his and found a hotel to stay at.
Jason Charron accompanied them to Poland, where he was informed that the orphans could not travel overseas without passports, and parted with Sherwood in Lithuania.
Enter Sophia Charron.
“It started with kinda a funny text,” she said.
The text was from her dad. She said that he looked exhausted, and she decided that she could go over and help. When she got a call from Sherwood saying that he needed someone to act as a translator, she decided to travel to Lithuania to meet him.
She quickly booked a ticket, and while in the airport, told her father she was going to Europe.
“I booked my ticket at 4 p.m. and left at 7 p.m. for Lithuania,” she said.
“Crazy girl,” Jason Charron said to his class. “I didn’t know she was doing that.”
While in Lithuania, Sherwood got a call from a friend who said that his parents needed help getting out of Ukraine.
The older couple originally didn’t want to leave their home city, but with the city being carpet-bombed, they took the 18-hour train ride from east to west Ukraine.
Sophia Charron and Sherwood took a taxi from Warsaw across Poland, entered Ukraine and met with her uncle. They drove to the train station, picked up the couple and rested for the night at her uncle’s house.
As the group made their way out of Ukraine, Sophia Charron said she was struck by the change that had come over the city of Lviv.
On previous trips to Ukraine, she said the city was “lowkey, cultured, leisurely,” but that on this trip, it was “full of people packed tightly and moving quickly.”
Once at the border, Sophia Charron said she was struck by how everyone was facing the same issues getting out of the country.
“Obviously there’s ways for oligarchs to get out, but people that are in the working class are all in one class here,” she said. “Old people and women and children all in one category with one goal to get out.”
Though father and daughter did not cross paths in Ukraine, both stressed the impressive unity of the Ukrainian people.
There is an “extremely strong national identity, extremely strong sense of honor,” Sophia Charron said.
Jason Charron added that, “People were offended if you gave them money. (They were) not doing this for the money. … They’re motivated by virtue.”
To demonstrate the hope of the people of Ukraine, he told the story of a Russian-speaking woman — no older than 24 — walking to the border of Ukraine and Poland to give her 18-month-old son to his Polish father and turning around and walking back into Ukraine.
It is stories like these that Jason Charron hopes will remind people that Ukraine is a proud country and that such a country will not go down without a fight.
Jason Charron was on Pints with Aquinas with Matt Fradd on March 14 to discuss what he saw in Ukraine. His passion and frustration were on full display there, much to the dismay of the livestream’s chat, many of whom seemed to disagree with him on whether Ukraine is the country to support.
Jason Charron gave a call to help those in Ukraine.
“Call your senators,” he told his classroom. “Ukraine was told that it would be supported if they denuclearize, and now that time for support has come. So pressure your congressmen to follow that promise.”