Bay Area couple raises money and travels to Poland to meet and help Ukrainian refugees

A Bay Area couple is sharing their story about their relief work with Ukrainian refugees in Poland.

Marin County realtor Jola Marra and her husband Santiago Marra, who works in the tech industry, said their 2-week trip is a reminder that the war in Ukraine is not over.

They estimated that they were able to help 200 families and dozens of children from an orphanage.  

The Novato couple shared photos that illustrate the journey they took at the end of May.

Jola said the trip was originally to visit family in her home country of Poland, but her focus soon turned to helping Ukrainian refugees there.

She raised money through donations from clients, co-workers, and neighbors.

"In 3 weeks, we got $40,000. It was pretty amazing. We had our hands full when we got to Poland," said Jola.    

The couple showed videos of the people they helped, including one with children from a Ukrainian orphanage singing, said Jola. . 

The children evacuated from a war zone and are now at an event center in Poland that was a venue for weddings and other functions. 

The Marras gifted the children cookies, candies, and necessities such as t-shirts and shoes. They also bought them a washing machine.

"It felt great. It's sad because the Polish families want to adopt them or foster them but because of the war, everything is put on hold," said Jola.  

SEE ALSO: East San Jose home has been hit 23 times by speeding drivers exiting freeway

The couple said they purchased supplies and gift cards for students at eight schools.

"The kids were jumping for joy. It was really special, that moment," said Jola.  

The couple said their relief work is about meeting the refugees they help in person. It's a feat made possible with the help of a nonprofit in Poland.

"How do you establish a connection with the people you're helping?" said Santiago. "It was about helping as many people as we could but also understanding  what people there were going through."   

The couple said they had enough money to rent apartments for six families, unable to return to Ukraine as soon as they had hoped. 
In many cases, women separated from their husbands, children from their fathers. 
"It was sad, can't imagine having to go through this," said Jola.  

The Marras said their goal is to raise awareness about the plight of the refugees.  

"I'm hoping that I can get more help from people here and help people there," said Jola.  

The Marras said they were already planning another trip back to Poland to help Ukrainians refugees while they were still there.

They are now raising money with hopes of going there during the holiday season and next march.

They have started a GoFundMe page, click here to learn more.  

Amber Lee is a reporter with KTVU. Email Amber at or text/leave message at 510-599-3922. Follow her on Facebook @AmberKTVU,  Instagram @AmberKTVU  or Twitter @AmberKTVU