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When Roswell native Jose Miguel “Mike” Jimenez posted an update on his Facebook page April 14 to let people know he is at Poland’s border with Ukraine, helping refugees from the Russian-Ukrainian war, most of his friends and family were not surprised. All through his life, they’ve known him to be there when someone needed help.
His friend Don Bullock has known him for more than 30 years. The retired owner of Bullock’s Jewelry in Roswell said, “We got to know each other on our church mission trip forever ago, we went down to Mexico and built homes for poor people down there. He has always had a heart to help others and he’s done that locally as well.”
Jimenez has a unique view of the monumental effort being made to help Ukrainians escape the merciless assault of Vladimir Putin’s Russian war machine. Between long days and short nights, Jimenez answered questions by email about impressions formed as he’s volunteered at the border with Ukraine.
Jimenez said that after retiring from teaching at Eastern New Mexico University-Roswell in 2015, he decided to travel the world. After spending months in Hawaii, New Zealand, Australia, China, South America and India, he found a new challenge: attempting to climb Mount Everest in Nepal in 2019.
He wrote that he had finished the first half of a Mount Everest base camp trek and was planning to do the second half in 2020. Due to the pandemic, he had to postpone his plans and remained in Roswell, where he was teaching meditation techniques.
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“Once the war broke out I felt like I had to do something to help the Ukrainian people,” Jimenez wrote. “I decided to come here instead of climbing. I knew the mountain wasn’t going anywhere and would be there once I was done.
“I came to Poland believing I would end up in the right place with the right people. I am in Przemysl, Poland and there is a city a few kilometers away called Medyka. Half of the city is in Poland and the other in Ukraine. This is a conduit for refugees. Everyone headed into Ukraine from here passes through Medyka,” he wrote.
Jimenez continued, “I see busloads, carloads, vans, and any other means of transporting people arriving constantly. Volunteers are at the train station, the border, and drive into Ukraine to bring people to the humanitarian aid centers. They bring with them a suitcase or two, bags and very little else. The majority are women and children and older seniors. Some of the seniors have family to accompany them, while others do not. There are not a lot of young or middle-age men since they are needed to fight.
“I don’t know if any of the children are unaccompanied but so far, none seem alone.”
Asked what situation — positive or negative — has made the biggest impression on him in recent weeks, he wrote, “The most positive are the volunteers. They come from all over the world to do what they can. Some bring cars they own or rent to transport people. Others cook and clean. Everything is provided at no cost. The most negative was hearing what happened on the night shift from one of the guys who works during that time. A woman came in and started telling the translators — mostly women — that she had been raped. The translators became emotional, began to cry, and were unable to continue.”
Jimenez wrote that while there are organizations helping, most of those assisting where he is are individuals, like him.
One of the places Jimenez works is an “overflow room” with cots for almost 400 refugees.
“It is only for 24 hours and they must leave in the morning to other rooms designated for the country they are destined for. The room has to be stripped, cleaned, disinfected, and then made ready each day for the new group coming in. Lots of work, but we somehow manage each day,” he said.
Among the things Jimenez said would help most at the refugee center are mobile laundry services like those used in areas impacted by disaster, and funds designated to help refugees find housing.
Jimenez enlisted in the Marines at the age of 17 and served on board a nuclear submarine in the Navy at age 27. After retiring from ENMU-R, he went on to study meditation in India for two months and vibrational healing in Nepal.
“I don’t own anything, having sold all my possessions before I left,” he wrote. “Once I leave here, I am traveling to Nepal to finish the second half of (the) Mt. Everest base camp trek. Being here felt like it was more important. Like I was doing something valuable that helped others. Like I was making a difference.
“Not everyone can help, but I can, I thought.”
Jimenez’s cousin Jeneva Martinez lives in Roswell as well. She said in an interview, “I am not surprised that he would volunteer for something like this. He has such an amazing heart and is always giving in some form and fashion, if it’s not teaching people how to meditate or learning something from him out at the college. He’s always doing something that he’s passionate about.”
Another friend who met Jimenez four years ago is Colleen Scheid. She and her husband were traveling on bicycles from San Diego, California to St. Augustine, Florida to raise awareness about childhood cancer when they stopped in Roswell.
“We were getting water and some snacks for our next leg of our bicycle trip. He was so kind to us. He asked us if we had everything we needed, if we had a place to stay, and if there was anything he could do to help us. … His soul is pure and his intentions are just the same. He’s a great guy with a big heart.”
Local game designer Matt Bromley had Jimenez as a meditation teacher, and said about him, “I realized that Mike was a diamond in the rough. Well-traveled, wise and funny. It is no surprise to me that he is willing to travel around the world to a place of absolute turmoil to help in any way he can.
“He is truly here to help humanity.”
Christina Stock may be contacted at 622-7710, ext. 309, or at email@example.com.