PERRY TOWNSHIP, Ohio — Keith Marion crossed the border from Poland into Ukraine and handed Easter bags filled with food and candy to families, but he was caught off guard by the generosity of a Ukrainian boy who appeared to be about 10-years-old.
The child pulled a small candy bar from his pocket and insisted that Marion keep it.
This week, Marion, a merchant mariner, returned home to Perry Township after spending two weeks helping Ukrainian refugees fleeing the country because of the invasion by Russia. He brought the candy bar with him.
"I treasure it," Marion said.
The encounter with the boy was among multiple emotional moments that Marion, 51, experienced during the trip.
During an interview with News 5, Marion read from his journal that detailed the people he met and fought back tears as he talked about the plight of Ukrainians.
"I mean, these families are coming over with nothing, and (for me) to put a smile on a kid's face, it felt good," he said.
Marion's only real connection to Ukraine was his great-grandmother who was from that country.
"I met her (when he was a child) because she lived to be, I believe, 96 or 98," he said.
However, it wasn't family ties that inspired Marion to fly to Poland. He said he felt a calling to do something after watching news coverage of the war.
With his passport in hand and a Rosary around his neck, Marion boarded a plane for Poland on March 30 without a plan.
During his time there, he used his own money to buy food, water and Easter treats for many of the refugees.
He crossed the border about 12 times assisting people who had already made it to Poland and others who were waiting in long lines— sometimes in frigid weather— to enter Poland.
"It was just the kids' faces. I'll never forget them."
With their permission, Marion took many pictures of the Ukrainians, along with other U.S. volunteers who offered relief.
One of his precious photographs captured a young boy jumping into the arms of a man, a reunion that happened moments after the child crossed into Poland.
"There wasn't a dry eye," Marion said.
Marion also joined a small group of Americans who went into Ukraine to provide medical supplies to injured soldiers. He met a soldier who had been shot and survived.
"His name was Jacob. He was a Ukrainian soldier. He was heading to surgery in Warsaw."
The two still communicate through a social media app, Marion said.
Marion developed a strong affinity for many of the refugees, so coming home was hard, but he continue to keep them in his heart.
"It was very bittersweet. If I could have stayed, I would have," he said. "I'm definitely going to be more involved in humanitarian efforts."