This is the third 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 herehereherehere, and here.

Extra clothes from a donation tent being sent to refugees elsewhere in Poland.

One of the funnest things about being serving in Poland was giving gifts to kids in the shelter. We had LOTS of stickers to give out, which appeared to be one of the greatest things the kids could ever get. They had so much fun with them, and remarkably, the walls were NOT covered in them. My friend Zac brought some other small toys and candy that we would pass out. I expected fighting or whining over the limited gifts, as all kids are wont to do, but I didn’t see any of that. They were happy to have anything.

              One afternoon, Zac was giving out small sticky, rubbery toys that will stick to the wall when thrown. The kids loved them. (It was my job to hand out the candy, something which the parents loved just as much as the kids.) One girl around eight-years-old walked up to me after all of the toys were gone, and handed me one of the little items. “It’s a gift,” she said in Russian. I told she could keep it, but she really wanted to give it to one of us. She just wanted to be able to help, somehow.

              The next day I was playing catch with a small football that one of the boys had. Pretty soon there were two boys playing with me, who each had a football. After a few minutes, they grew tired of playing and moved on. Leaving me with two footballs, I yelled “Wait, you left your ball.” One of them turned around and just said “Keep it, or give it to some other kid.” The cynical person would just say that they didn’t like the football, and quickly grew tired of it. That’s a possibility. But I choose to think that they were simply kind enough to share what they had, and knew that others may appreciate it even more than they.

              Many of the people in the center who cleaned, or translated, or dished up food, etc. were refugees staying in the center. They wanted to participate and be part of the efforts. They knew they needed help, but they also recognized that others needed it, too. They were all in this together, so they wanted to do their part.

              I met a young woman in the center who was an intern in Ukraine. She had finished medical school, and began her training in anesthesiology last year. However, since she had not completed her first year of post-medical school training, she was unable to practice medicine in any way. She reached out to the clinic where we worked when she first arrived, and was told that she couldn’t help out because her English wasn’t good enough. However, she very desperately wanted to do something medical so that she didn’t lose her knowledge and skills. We were able to find some volunteer work that she could do in the clinic. When I told her, her smile was huge, and she thanked all of us profusely and repeatedly. She was able to offer some meaningful service there, and I’m hoping that she is still able to help even after we left.

              During my week in Krakow, I volunteered at a clothing tent where people could come and get free clothes. There were so many donations, that many of the clothes were sent elsewhere around the country; the large tent simply didn’t have room for all of them. I assume that the clothes were donated from around the world, I’m not even sure all of the places. And while it likely wasn’t the majority of donations, a significant amount of those clothes available for needy families came from other Ukrainians.

              It’s a gift.

Refugee donation tents at the main train station in Krakow.
A crow of refugees gather at the clothing tent (left tent) in Krakow.
Semis full of donated goods waiting at Polish-Ukrainian border.
More semis full of donated goods waiting at Polish-Ukrainian border. The line was at least a mile long, and would take multiple days for all of these trucks to get into Ukraine.


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


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.