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Ben Dusing returning home after spending a second tour at the Polish refugee camp at Ukrainian border

By Judy Clabes
NKyTribune editor

Ben Dusing is returning home from a second, extended trip to Medyka, Poland, at the border crossing from war-torn Ukraine, having immersed himself in humanitarian work with thousands of refugees who have fled Putin-directed atrocities in their country.

Dusing reconnected with a group of volunteers from his first trip to the refugee camp, electing to trade the chaos in his own life in NKY — while he addresses his suspension from the practice of law — to use his idle time and the Russian language skills he acquired from a youthful year’s stay in Russia to reach out to shell-shocked Ukrainians.

Voice of America news

In doing so, he was assigned a critical role, dressed in a bunny suit (his chicken suit passed o to a colleague), to be the first to greet thousands of refugees at the border’s main gate. He became an international sensation and has appeared in news reports around the world as “Mr. Bunny” who brought a smile to sad faces, delighted youngsters and families bringing with them only what they could carry, and directed them to the services they needed most — food, medical care, housing, counseling and more.

He purchased the new bunny suit from Theater House in Covington.

Having stayed longer than most volunteers do, Dusing became familiar with the vast network of Medyka’s services and the huge, various camps of international volunteers. He stayed mostly in the camp this time, where sanitary conditions were harsh. Once a week or so, he would stay at a nearby hostel just to get a shower. Mostly he slept in a tent and volunteered for other-than-bunny duties in the evening.

The sprawling humanitarian effort had grown considerably since his first trip. But there was no “authority,” so Dusing began to give orientation tours to new volunteers and visitors.

“It’s the kind of place where it is a big benefit to know a guy who knows a guy who knows a guy,” he said by telephone from Medyka, “and the visibility of the bunny suit and probably my personality led to a unique role in the village.”

There were exhaustive sad and emotional moments in greeting the refugees.

New friends, Damien, 10, and his family who needed help finding shelter. Damien became as Assistant to Ben the Bunny for a day.

“What do you say to an elderly grandmother who has traveled three or four days to get to the gates of Poland, who somehow managed to get out of Mariupol, stepping over the bodies of her neighbors in the streets, was shelled through all of the checkpoints leading out of the city, and on the buses when she finally made it that far, who is completely spent and can barely hold her head up. As it turns out you don’t need to say anything, You kneel by her side and hold her hand and speak the international language of love and compassion.

“Do I see the world differently now, my own life, my own problems,” Dusing said. “Of course I do.”

A highlight of the reporting that spread “Ben the Bunny’s” story all around the world was meeting MSNBC’s Stephanie Ruhle who melded into the volunteer corps at Medkya with her son on his spring break. She and her son were “invisible” volunteers, just trying to aid in the humanitarian crisis at the Polish border.

When she returned to the anchor desk at MSNBC, she reported on the work being done there:

Sad footnote: Too close to home

One day on his last week in Medyka, the Polish police paid a visit to Ben Dusing, saying that a caller — from a call coming from the USA — reported that Dusing had been “drunk and belligerent” in the refugee village. A crushing blow indeed, and a sad reminder of what Dusing still has to deal with at home. Villagers were outraged at the accusations and came strongly to their fellow volunteer’s aid. The Polish police wrote a report about the outrageous accusations and have reported the call to authorities who are investigating its origins. For the record, Dusing said he has been “clean and sober” for over 20 years.

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