Photographer travels with Heart to Heart International to show plight of refugees
By Craig Reed
When devastation occurs, Robin Loznak doesn’t hesitate to grab his camera equipment and document the event with photos and videos.
Since his college days when he discovered his passion in photojournalism, Robin has wanted to photograph and report on major events around the world. He has traveled to devastated areas as a freelance photojournalist and an independent contractor with Heart to Heart International— a global humanitarian organization based in Lenexa, Kansas.
Most recently, the Elkton-area resident traveled as a member of Heart to Heart teams to eastern European countries that border Ukraine, a country that has been at war with Russia since February.
“I specialize as a photographer, videographer and communicator,” says Robin, who had 20 years of newspaper experience before becoming a freelancer. “My job is to show how Heart to Heart International is responding—to get photos and videos pushed out to the media and to social media so Heart to Heart stakeholders, donors and partners can see what is happening
on the ground.”
Heart to Heart’s mission is “to improve health care access around the world by ensuring quality care is provided equitably in medically under-resourced communities in disaster situations.”
Founded in 1992, the organizationhas shipped about $2.4 billion in humanitarian aid to more than 130 countries in the past 30 years.
Robin says Heart to Heart typically responds to victims of earthquakes, hurricanes, tornadoes and wildfires—not to war conflicts. However, in the case of Ukraine, the organization decided to help refugees as they arrived in neighboring countries.
During a March trip, Robin was a member of a team that visited border crossings in Romania and Moldova. At both sites, Ukraine refugees were given hot food, drinks and access to medical services. Robin took photos and videos of refugees crossing the border and receiving services.
Heart to Heart shipped $19 million of medical supplies to Romania. HOPE Worldwide—another international nonprofit— figured out the logistics and transportation to get the supplies to refugees or to those in need in Ukraine. HOPE Worldwide’s mission is to serve the poor and needy around the world.
In Bucharest, the capital of Romania, the Heart to Heart team met with members of Open Door Foundation, an organization working to end human trafficking. Open Door staff needed a large passenger van to quickly transport refugees from border crossings to bus stations, medical clinics or safe shelters.
“Heart to Heart decided on a flash grant and within a couple days was able to purchase a lightly used van in Budapest for Open Door,” Robin says. “It felt great to see the results of helping people right away for a very worthy cause.”
After a week’s visit, the Heart to Heart team drove to Poland for its scheduled trip back to the United States. Although vaccinated, Robin tested positive for the coronavirus. The positive result was reported to the Polish government, and Robin was ordered to quarantine in a motel room. After seven days, he received a doctor’s approval to fly home.
Robin was able to get on a tractor and mow grass in his hazelnut orchard before flying out May 4 to Slovakia—another country that borders Ukraine. The Heart to Heart team was to meet with The Gorta Group, an Irish nonprofit that specializes in providing medical and humanitarian supplies in conflict zones.
Although the Heart to Heart team did not intend to enter Ukraine during this trip, on short notice the three members drove 5 miles across the border to Uzhhorod to meet with Gorta officials. The area had no previous war activities, but airraid sirens went off during the meeting.
The team and others took cover in a bomb shelter below a restaurant for 90 minutes, continuing its meeting, before the all-clear signal was given. No bombs fell.
The Heart to Heart team returned to Slovakia, where a $16 million shipment of medical supplies was documented and transferred to Gorta for delivery into Ukraine. The team returned home May 10.
“My experience as a news photographer really helps with my ability to be quick in getting information out from disaster zones,” Robin says. “I spent 20 years documenting small community events, and now I want to be there to document important events around the world.”
Carisa Cegavske, Robin’s wife of 27 years, says she understands this is something he has always wanted to do, but she admits to being nervous when he is gone. When he traveled with Heart to Heart to Haiti following a 2021 earthquake,
she was nervous because “that country is politically unstable,” she says.
On that trip, Robin was able to go above and beyond his communications skills by using training he had received as a Kellogg Rural Fire District member.
During a visit to a remote village, the team realized there were victims who suffered severe injuries when homes collapsed
during the earthquake. Robin had been trained in setting up landing zones for helicopters and was able to do the same at the village using a satellite phone and global positioning system device.
A U.S. Army Blackhawk helicopter was able to land and transport six severely injured people to a hospital.
“I felt good about that,” Robin says. “It all just kind of came together. I’m primarily the photographer and videographer, but sometimes you have to improvise and use your other skills.”
When Robin was told the Heart to Heart team would be going into Ukraine, he called his wife to tell her of the change in plans.
“I wasn’t too happy,” Carisa says. “He said that area was very safe, that it hadn’t been attacked, but that country is at war so you can never be sure. For two days, it was very nerve-wracking for me. I was glad to see him when he got back home.”
Robin says while documenting events for Heart to Heart and seeing up close people who are suffering, he is so involved in capturing the moments with his camera he is able to keep his emotions under control.
“I do dwell on some of the things I see and the people I meet after the fact,” he says. “I wonder what became of them. In
most cases, I’ll never know.
“I feel using my photographic skills is helpful. I believe what Heart to Heart is doing is valuable and important. My photographs and videos are showing the world what is going on and allows people to open their hearts to help Heart to Heart provide even more care. I seriously do feel good about what we’re doing, and that documenting it is important.”