Virginia hiker raising awareness for Ukrainian refugees by hiking the entire Appalachian Trail

Braeden Thomson took a semester off from school and volunteered at the Ukrainian border

His volunteering time, combined with his hike gave him the perfect opportunity to raise awareness.

ROANOKE, Va. – Braeden Thomson is a student at Cornell University studying earth science. He took a semester off from school to travel to South America, but as soon as Ukraine was invaded, he cut his trip short and headed to the Ukrainian border to volunteer. Braeden describes what he experienced in Ukraine as life-changing.

“Initially, it was really hard to process, and you are just over there, and like I said, it is a very emotional atmosphere. There is a lot of uncertainty. These people are fleeing war and that for them is incredibly difficult to deal with. Even for the volunteers, it’s mentally exhausting,” said Thomson.

Thomson said when he was volunteering, they were always busy sending supplies to those who needed help. “It was also just passing out food and really just trying to be a face of support.”

He always knew one of his goals was to hike the Appalachian Trail. His volunteering time combined with his hike gave him the perfect opportunity to raise awareness.

Thomson said, “Now I feel like the trail has sort of given me a space to reflect on the time that I was over there and really start to understand what I saw.”

Thomson started his hike in Georgia in April and plans to finish in Maine before the school year starts again. So far, he says his experience has been unreal.

“I think I had all these expectations coming into it that have just completely been turned on their head. I have met the most incredible people with the most amazing stories.”

Thomson said that hiking the Appalachian Trail has been one of the toughest things he has ever had to do, but on the hard days, he thinks back to the people in Ukraine.

“Thinking about the adversity that I saw people go through at the border and these people that are feeling war and thinking about my grandfather. It is those things that I sort of lean on and realize, that’s what motivates me.”

When Thomson first started his hike, he held a fundraiser online and raised $1,000 to help the people in Ukraine. If you would like to donate, click here.


About the Author:

Brittany Wier joined the 10 News team as the morning reporter in August 2021.