Chicago's Copernicus Center collecting bulletproof vests from police across Illinois for Ukraine

CHICAGO (WLS) -- While President Biden meets with Polish leaders and the 82nd Airborne Division in Poland, Polish community members in Chicago are also doing their part to help the millions of Ukrainian people fleeing to their home country.

"We asked in Poland and we asked in Ukraine, 'what can we do right now?'" said Kamila Sumelka, executive director of The Copernicus Center. "They said, 'get us vests, as many as you can.'"

A nonprofit that supports Polish culture outside of Poland, the Copernicus Center in Chicago is collecting bullet proof vests from police departments across Illinois to send to Ukrainians.

"They help both people on the front lines, but they also help citizens," Sumelka said, "because you have children and you have women who are just simply trying to cross the border and they're getting shot at. So this is for everyone."

So far, they've shipped hundreds of vests, trauma kits and first aid kits and raised tens of thousands of dollars for charitable groups helping Ukraine.

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"And we're going to keep doing this for as long as they need it, and they need it. We get phone calls every day can you send us eight can you send us 10 can you send us anything."

Sumelka said no matter how many supplies they send, it's never enough.

"It's heartbreaking to see that so many people have to leave their homes," said Bogdan Pukszta, executive director of Polish American Chamber of Commerce, "and perhaps when the war is over, their homes maybe not even there."

Pukszta was born in the southeast Polish town that Biden visited Friday. He said it's important for the president to be there, show his support and motivate the Ukrainian people.

He noted Poland has a history of being refugees themselves at one point, making the country especially sensitive and well-equipped to help the Ukrainians now.

"One hopes that people learn from history," Pukszta said. "Unfortunately, it so often happens that we don't."

President Biden is expected to meet with refugees in Poland Saturday and see firsthand how the country is coping with the growing humanitarian crisis.

The president also pledged another $1 billion in humanitarian aid for Ukraine and said the United States would welcome up to 100,000 refugees.
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