Zofia Pajic, left, and Lexi Bastian, sixth-grade students at St. John XXIII Catholic School in Scottsdale, Ariz., are seen March 10. CNS photo/courtesy Pajic family via The Catholic Sun

Student prayers spark Ukraine rescue effort

By  Joyce Coronel, Catholic News Service
  • March 23, 2022

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- The power of prayer and the aid of technology has united two families thousands of miles apart in an international rescue operation — all at the instigation of two 12-year-old girls.

Sixth-grade students Lexi Bastian and Zofia Pajic are classmates at St. John XXIII Catholic School in Scottsdale. When Lexi offered a heartfelt prayer that her relatives in Ukraine would manage to stay safe amid an escalating war and surging humanitarian crisis, Zofia was moved to speak to her Polish-born mother, Kasia, about it.

“We are friends. We communicate about homework and stuff, but we’re not like buddy-buddies,” Kasia Pajic said of the Bastians.

That all changed when a text message landed on Kasia’s phone on a Sunday morning. It was Lexi’s mom, Dianna.

“Do you by any chance know of anyone in Poland who would be willing to rent out a flat somewhere for my family members once they cross the Polish border?” the message read in part.

Kasia, who was born in Poland and came to the U.S. with her parents when she was seven, called her mother, but no one, it seemed, had any vacancies.

“Then, on a whim, I reached out to our cousin who lives in Poland,” Kasia said. She told him about the Ukrainian family seeking shelter.

Kasia and her Polish cousin used Facebook Messenger to communicate, and found a two-bedroom house in the countryside.

But there was more. The Polish cousin wondered if the Ukrainian family would need to be picked up from the border.

That’s when Dianna Bastian gave Kasia’s phone number to Andre, the elderly Ukrainian couple’s son who lives on the East Coast in the U.S. and was frantically trying to help get his parents out of war-torn Ukraine.

By Tuesday morning, Andre called Kasia and told her his family would be on the border between Ukraine and Poland at 2 p.m. that day. Kasia called her cousins to alert them. It would be an eight- or nine-hour journey to the rendezvous point.

They exchanged pictures of their relatives through text messaging so they would recognize each other at the crossing point.

By 10 p.m. that night, the three Ukrainians were able to cross the border and were greeted by Kasia’s Polish cousins. Upon meeting, they discovered they could communicate with each other in English.

“Did they need any food, medicine, or supplies?” Kasia asked her Polish cousin, Adam.

“All he said was, ‘They just want to lay down and rest. They want to rest now that there are no sirens going off and there’s not a chance of somebody bombing the place.’ ”

Dianna Bastian knows well the crushing hardships endured by refugees. She is a first-generation American of 100-per-cent Ukrainian heritage.

“My mom fled from the Russians back in 1949 with her sister and my grandma and grandpa. They pretty much went through the same thing: the terror, the shooting, the occupation of Ukraine by Russians,” she said.

So how does it feel knowing that complete strangers were willing to drive for hours to the Ukrainian border to rescue people they didn’t even know?

“Prayer completely brought us together,” Dianna said, noting that “it was through prayer” she decided to reach out Kasia for help. “She got on the horn right away and was able to facilitate this.”

Kasia, who grew up in a multigenerational household with family who survived the Second World War, said that like Dianna, she heard the stories of how family members had to run for their lives.

Preston Colao, principal of St. John XXIII where the Bastian and Pajic families connected, said the rescue effort was an example of how prayer changes things.

“It wouldn’t have happened in a public-school setting, and it really is a blessing for both those families,” Colao said.

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