Paul Schockemöhle’s Lewitz Stud in Northern Germany is probably best known for being the biggest warmblood breeding stable in the world. But in the past few weeks, the Lewitz Stud team has taken on a new mission: helping Ukrainians flee the war.
Schockemöhle’s team, spearheaded in part by Lewitz Stud training center manager Dirk Hauser, has evacuated two busloads of Ukrainian women and children to their town of Neustadt-Glewe, Germany, and they’re not done yet.
The team has also been collecting donations for Ukrainians and hired a logistics company to get them from Germany to the Ukrainian border where the army can distribute supplies.
Lewitz Stud regularly employs interns from around the world, including from Ukraine. So when the war broke out, Hauser reached out to the Polissia National University in Zhytomyr, Ukraine, which works with the Ukrainian Association Of Young Farmers to arrange paperwork for the 50-80 interns they send to Lewitz Stud every year.
“I said, ‘Listen, we are such a big company, and we can organize many things. Do you think you can organize women and children for us? Because Mr. Schockemöhle wants to help,’ ” Hauser said.
“They organized buses and brought them in the night to the [Polish] border,” he continued. “We sent a bus to this place, and Mr. Schockemöhle paid for everything in advance.”
Hauser said that 80 to 90 people have been evacuated so far in two separate trips: one that arrived to Neustadt-Glewe in the early morning on March 3 and another that arrived March 7. The refugees have endured a very long journey, starting from the 15-hour trip from Zhytomyr to the Polish border, an eight-hour wait there thanks to a massive backup, then another 15 hours to Neustadt-Glewe.
“We rented a hotel for these women,” Hauser said. “We picked them up, and it was unbelievable. They didn’t even have a suitcase, just a bag, nothing else. Some of them were 65 years old with two or three children from other people who had to stay in Ukraine.”
The project is being paid for by the Paul Schockemöhle Foundation, which Schockemöhle created about 3 ½ years ago. The foundation has spent about 50,000 euros (roughly $55,000) annually to help poor and homeless people in the region where Lewitz Stud is located.
Once the town of Neustadt-Glewe found out what Schockemöhle was doing, officials jumped on board to help fund hotel rooms, medical support and food for the refugees. The team has also started searching for more buildings they can rent in town to house additional people escaping the war, and everyone at the stud is pitching in.
“We have the manpower,” Hauser said. “Here the stud has 350 workers and young people, and they are all behind us. If I say, ‘This room must be clean,’ five people go in, and it’s [immediately done].”
Hauser said they’re trying to keep life as normal as possible for the refugees, having already arranged a makeshift school for the children. The team hopes to help integrate the refugees into the community, supporting them financially and logistically to construct a future here or in their country if they’d like to return after the war. Schockemöhle’s team has already identified a few job opportunities for them inside their company and at other companies in town.
“Germany is so open at the moment,” he said. “All these little cities are collecting money, medicine, everything. Every city tries to make things easy as possible for these people. They get free health insurance, and they get also get a work permit if they want. In the years before they didn’t get work permits in Germany because it wasn’t the [European Union], just students can come for a time from university, but now everybody who wants to work in Germany or European Union can start working.”
When news broke about the Russian invasion, most of the male Ukrainian interns working at Lewitz Stud returned home to fight in the war, Hauser said. He now spends time every evening communicating with some 30 Ukrainian former interns, making sure they’re safe and seeing how he can help. Several have returned to the stud.
“They’re having a very difficult time, but when I spoke with them it was unbelievable how proud they are for their country and how they fight,” he said.
That strength of character is what’s impressed Hauser the most about the Ukrainians he has met, and he’s not the only one.
“Right now we have about 30 children from 6 months to 15 years old [in Neustadt-Glewe],” he said. “They’ve been here now about two or three days. When I came into the house this morning they said to me in German, ‘good morning.’ It’s unbelievable.
“I got a letter one day after the second bus transport from one of the drivers,” he continued. “It said, ‘Dirk, I have to tell you it was the most amazing thing I had ever done in my life. I met so many unbelievably nice people.’ It was a pleasure for him to drive these people, and he said if I ever need him again, I can call him and the other driver.”