This is the fourth 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.

Refugee families waiting to move on to their next destination.

Not only have Ukrainians shown a remarkable resilience in the face of such terrible atrocities, but they also continue to have a great sense of gratitude during these times. Every single Ukrainian that I spoke with in Poland (dozens, if not hundreds) all expressed sincere thanks for any help they were receiving. Tears of joy and relief came amidst tears of fear, sadness, and anger.

                Many of the people I met had a sense of wonder that anyone would care enough to help. They figured that no one in Western Europe or America would know where Ukraine was, or that it even existed. “We’re here with you,” was all I could muster in such moments.

                One woman told me of leaving Mariupol the day before with her daughter and grandson. The battle was still intensely raging at that time. She cried as she related the death of her husband, who happened to be the only one home when their apartment building was bombed just a week before. Her son-in-law was fighting, and she hadn’t received any word about him for weeks. She motioned to her sleeping grandson, all of nine-years-old, as she expressed horror of what was to come of his life. There was no plan yet as to where they would go, for how long, and if they could ever return to their homeland. And yet, in the same breath, she spoke of how grateful she was that they had a place to stay, someplace warm, with beds and blankets, and food. She marveled at it. She was so thankful, even just to have someone to listen to her.

                Merely minutes after talking with her, I met another woman with a similar story. Her husband had died well before the war. She was in her seventies and confined to a wheelchair. She had arrived a few weeks previously with some family. Given her poor health, she was unable to move on to another place, but was worried about holding her family back. They were working on visas to another country, with the plan that she would likely stay put in the shelter in Warsaw. She was so scared, and had to completely depend on others for everything. And yet, instead of expressing dismay or anger or cursing God or anyone else, she told me how glad she was that she was in the center, that she had a place to get the support she needed.

The center where we were included cots to sleep on (see below), three meals a day, our medical and dental clinics (which included many medications available for free), free glasses, visa applications and help for multiple different countries, laundry, clothing, and play areas with toys, among other things. It certainly wasn’t an ideal location for people to stay, but they all seemed grateful to be there.

                I dare say most people wouldn’t react this way in such circumstances.

Just some of the many things offered to refugees at the center:

Cots available for refugees in a giant expo hall.
People checking into our small clinic.
A cubicle for seeing patients.
Dental pod.
Eating quickly during transition.
Small clothing area for those in need.
Panoramic view of most of the pharmacy.
Our volunteers sanitizing hands before a meal.
People gathering to get their free glasses.

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.