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November 20, 2023

Family stories motivate one marathon runner to fundraise for refugees in NYC

When the Russian Federation invaded Ukraine in February 2022, Mark Rubakh was overcome with emotion and inspired to take action. Growing up, he was surrounded by the stories of his own parents' refugee journey — they were forced to flee the Soviet Union because of antisemitism and a lack of opportunity for Jews in the country. 

Watching the war unfold on television, Mark was immediately reminded of his parents’ journey and the uncertainty that lay ahead for the families fleeing Ukraine.

“It felt like the world I knew was falling apart,” shares Mark. “Friends and family members on both sides of the conflict were caught in the crossfire, forced to flee their homes or risk losing their lives.”

Mark knew he wanted to take action and make a tangible difference for refugees fleeing Ukraine, but as a recent college graduate with little expendable income, he knew he needed to get creative to make the impact that he wanted. Combining his passion for helping refugees with his dream of running the New York City Marathon, Mark joined USA for UNHCR’s Team Step with Refugees and started a fundraiser.

“Fundraising was definitely new to me,” says Mark. “Setting up a fundraising page and putting my story out there made me a little bit vulnerable, but also it made me really happy when people reached out and were in solidarity. Supporting refugees is a very clear issue so it was easy to get people on board.”

Although a seasoned marathon runner, Mark was even more motivated to train and to do everything in his power to make as much of an impact for refugees as he could. “Running for this cause I feel like I'm letting all the refugees in the world down if I don't train well and if I don’t run my best,” Mark says.

“Mark’s efforts as both a runner and a fundraiser were a great success,” shares Kate Jordan-Farmer, Senior Manager, Community Partnerships. “His enthusiasm for supporting refugees is infectious and it’s always exciting to witness how individuals like Mark unlock the power of their own communities to deliver results for forcibly displaced families.”

Mark finished the marathon in 3 hours and 47 minutes and surpassed his fundraising goal — raising more than $4,000 from nearly 40 donors including family, friends and work colleagues.

While Mark was initially motivated to help Ukrainian refugees because of his family’s connection to the region, he now hopes his fundraising efforts are helping raise awareness about refugees from all parts of the world. 

“Tens of millions of displaced refugees around the world are without food, shelter or any certainty about their future,” Mark shares. “We must do what we can to help, not just in Ukraine, but in other conflict zones like Afghanistan, Syria and the Sahel region. I hope that running for this charity opens up people's eyes and makes them more aware of this.”

How to Get Involved:

Inspired by Mark’s journey to help refugees? Learn more about Team Step With Refugees and how you can help by combining your passion for running with your generosity and care for displaced families around the world.