This is the second installment discussing my experiences working with Ukrainian refugees in Poland. Go here to see the other entries. More pictures of my particular group can be found here, here, here, here, and here.

On February 23, 2022, very few people in the western world knew what the Ukrainian flag looked like. A request to describe anything about it would be met with blank stares, except for those who envisioned that it may still resemble the flag of the Soviet Union, hammer and sickle over a dark red flag. I dare say that even most Polish people, immediate Ukrainian neighbors to the west, would have no idea. But once Russia invaded Ukraine for no legitimate reason outside of Putin’s selfish maniacal narcissism, millions in the western world immediately recognized the depiction of the blue sky over the fields of golden grain that is the representation of the country that I love.

              The flag is now ubiquitous throughout the United States and Poland. (It likely is elsewhere, but I have only been in Utah, Washington, DC, and Poland since the war began, so cannot comment on other areas.) Signs of the flag with supportive text have popped up everywhere.

              Seven million Ukrainians have fled the terror of war into other countries, 90% of whom are women and children. Over half of these refugees have gone to Poland. Another eight million Ukrainians have been displaced within the country. Many of them have since gone on to live elsewhere, with multiple European and North American countries opening their borders to refugees, along with others around the world. Two million Ukrainians have returned to their country. (All stats taken from this BBC News story.)

              My first week was spent in Warsaw, at a former expo center repurposed into a shelter. While it could theoretically accommodate many thousands of people, there were only around two thousand during my stay. The influx of displaced Ukrainians had slowed down by this point. Many of those who had not already gone to another country were planning to return to Ukraine. I went with the great people at International Medical Relief, a phenomenal group of giving people, most of whom were health care professionals. The group bonded easily and strongly, and I believe that only enhanced our ability to serve the Ukrainian people there.

              My second week was supposed to be my own return to Ukraine, but it wasn’t to be. The circumstances surrounding the “mission” in Ukraine changed (as is common in war-torn areas, of course), meaning that I was unable to accompany August Mission into the country. Instead, I went to Krakow to spend the week helping Ukrainians there. It mostly involved assisting in clothing donations and other similar activities, but was much less intense in scope and schedule from the first week.  

The Polish people and others around the world are the biggest heroes in this tragedy. I believe in a religion of love, and no one has shown more love and open arms than the Polish people in the last three months. As far as I am concerned, they will go straight to heaven for their kindness. Not only were flags and signs ever-present throughout the country (see collages below), but many everyday signs were changed to include Ukrainian. Places of literal and figurative refuge and material support have popped up everywhere. Children’s books that include stories in both Polish and Ukrainian became common to help children adapt. Miracles happen every day, and the people of Poland are a miracle to the people of Ukraine.

              Ukrainians are some of the most resilient people in the world. They have the perfect combination of humility and a F**k You attitude that has led them to defend their country much more effectively than was expected. One of the volunteer translators at the center showed me a picture of his eight-year-old niece in Kiev. She was standing on the charred remains of a burned Russian tank in the middle of the city, flexing her arms with a look of triumph on her face. That is what the Ukrainian flag truly stands for. The world is quickly learning that.

I think this is simply AMAZING at expressing Ukrainian determination.
Multiple places across Warsaw and Krakow expressing their support for Ukraine.
Multiple places across Warsaw and Krakow expressing their support for Ukraine, including soup and children’s activities.
Multiple places across Warsaw and Krakow expressing their support for Ukraine.

The next entry will include a lot more personal stories from the wonderful people I met.

War Sucks

from https://blogs.lse.ac.uk/usappblog/2022/03/04/russias-war-with-ukraine-asking-the-right-questions/

War sucks. I don’t use such a term flippantly; it just seems to be the best way to describe it. Also remember that as a “Xennial” who came of age in the nineties, I am well aware that all things suck, including: mean people , Springfield, reality (sort of), and, well, everything (advisory for lyrics). And so I repeat: war sucks.

              Thus begins a series of posts that I will be doing on my experiences working with displaced Ukrainians from the Russian invasion of Ukraine. I write this on the heels of spending two weeks in Poland working with Ukrainian refugees. It sparked a lot of emotions and deep introspection that I want to explore in writing. Those of you who know me are aware that this war has affected me deeply. I lived in Ukraine from August 2000-May 2002 as a missionary for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. It was an extremely difficult and tremendously meaningful experience that I cherish. Ukraine feels like my country, and Ukrainians like my people. Given the millions of refugees flooding into Europe, a majority of whom are coming through Poland, and the immense need that creates, I wanted to come help in-person. As a physician, it was an easy decision on the best way to contribute—offer medical assistance. So that’s what I’ve done.

              I wanted to ensure that I was not acting from an arrogant attitude of privilege, where I am the great American coming to fix everything and save everyone, though that temptation exists in any such humanitarian effort. I approached this more as a loving brother and concerned neighbor to help those in need. I intended to come strictly for the Ukrainian people, to meet some of their needs in any small way I could. Not only have they inspired me, but I believe that they have met my needs, as well. Serving in the very limited capacity I have is not only like putting a band-aid on a gunshot wound; it’s more akin to putting a band-aid on a single gunshot wound in a field full of people with gunshot wounds. (Forgive me for the simile, given our atrocious recent gun violence in the United States.) Would the people I saw have been just as okay if I didn’t come over? Probably. Would they have been okay if no one came? No. Did my presence make an impact? I think so, as much on me as on anyone else.

              There will always be literal and figurative gunshot wounds, in the US and elsewhere. We cannot eliminate them, though we need to try as much as we can. We have to. Because everyone deserves peace, and liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Everyone deserves health, and safety, and the ability to follow their own religious dictates. No one deserves to be falsely accused of terrible things by a dictatorial tyrant, and then to be violently attacked based on those falsities.

              There were so many people who very graciously supported me in this cause, whether through financial donations, emotional support, watching over my family in my absence, and even a good friend from my youth who came with me on the journey. They all fill the same role I do, a team of those who care about their fellow citizens of the world and want to help in any way they can. They have all acted in humility and sincerity, and I truly thank them all. With the donations, thousands of dollars of medications and supplies that Ukrainians need have been provided.

              Please don’t misunderstand me for writing about this conflict as it pertains to me. It may seem selfish and self-serving, but I can only discuss these events from my own experience. I’ll include many stories shared with me from displaced Ukrainians. Hopefully, we can all learn together from them.

But the only reason that I went to Poland was because war sucks. Putin is simply evil, there is no other way to put it. Thousands have been killed needlessly, millions have been displaced needlessly, but millions have also responded with kindness, needfully. If Putin hadn’t invaded, I and thousands of others would not have gone to Poland to assist refugees, nor millions others donated to these efforts. Good always trumps evil…eventually.

Everyone, grab your band-aids. Let’s do what we can.