An ocean and a continent separate Oregon Health and Science University from Ukraine, but OHSU faculty and staff have stepped up to help the war-beleaguered country.
Since Russia’s invasion on February 24, OHSU members have donated thousands of items, collected through OHSU logistics and shipped to Ukraine. Everything from backpacks and coats to flashlights and diapers were delivered to the country via Poland. In addition, OHSU has so far provided 5,600 pounds of excess medical supplies, including gloves, antiseptic wipes, face masks, slings and supplies for vacuum-assisted closure. OHSU continues to send excess medical supplies through an organization supporting Ukraine.
Some current and former faculty and staff have gone even further and put themselves directly in harm’s way to help Ukrainians whose lives have been brutally disrupted by the invasion.
“A huge injustice”
As the bombs began to fall in Ukraine on February 24, Stephen Donnelly, MD, immediately began scanning the internet to figure out how he could help.
Donnelly, an assistant professor of emergency medicine at OHSU’s School of Medicine, has been practicing in the emergency department at Columbia Memorial Hospital in Astoria since 2018. While others have expressed support online or written off a check to of humanitarian organizations, Donnelly wanted to give hands-on support.
He reflected on his motivation shortly before leaving for Ukraine on May 16.
“I saw it as a huge injustice – indiscriminate murder without justification,” he said. “Both of my grandparents served in World War II, and I remember their stories as a child. I also took an ethics class in medical school about medicine and Nazism. I remember one of the main themes – that some people didn’t stand up when they might have to make a difference.
Donnelly wanted to make a difference.
He joined an organization called Austere Medical Relief Group, which has so far sent three waves of medical professionals to train Ukrainians in the care of combat casualties, deliver medical supplies and assist with medical evacuations. He crossed the border from Romania, then headed to a place south of Kyiv – ‘not on the front lines, but closer to the action than probably my family is comfortable with’ .
Donnelly, 36, is well-placed to serve, given his expertise as an emergency medicine specialist, as well as his previous experience providing care in austere environments, including Swaziland and Honduras. He is grateful to his colleagues at Columbia Memorial, who swapped shifts to give him time to serve overseas.
In a conversation before he left, he said the fate of Ukrainians weighed on his mind and heart.
“I can leave and they don’t,” he said.
Donnelly grew up Catholic in Ohio. As he prepared to depart for the site of Europe’s worst conflict since World War II, he recalled the words of one of his favorite saints, Saint Thérèse of Lisieux: “What matters in life , it is not great deeds, but great love.
Ukrainians fight and die at home, engendering a sense of common humanity that prompted Donnelly to step forward.
“People need help, so I’m going to show up,” he said. “It’s something that got to me. That’s what I have to do.
Moving supplies, helping children
Until February this year, Mila (Ludmila) Volyanyuk thought she had left her native Ukraine in the past.
Then the missiles began to fall, and Volyanyuk answered the call.
Volyanyuk, a former speech pathologist at OHSU, quickly began looking for opportunities where she could apply her medical training and previous experience as a search and rescue specialist in the US Coast Guard. She quickly bonded with Aerial recoverya Nashville-based international aid organization that focuses on moving thousands of orphaned children from eastern Ukraine to safer areas in the west.
On April 5, she was on her way to Ukraine.
She spent six weeks in the country with Aerial Recovery, moving children safely through an attacked country and transporting medical and essential supplies across the country.
She returned there on June 1 for an extended tour with the organization.
“My goal there is not to fight Russia, but to do everything I can with our team to help these children in Ukraine,” she said.
She focuses on helping the thousands of Ukrainian children who have been displaced by Russia’s attack on the country. These children now have to live in a war-torn, bombed and unstable country, amid dwindling supplies, exhausted caregivers and makeshift bomb shelters.
Human trafficking is rampant in the country, she said.
“Trafficking in women and children is openly open,” she said. “Nobody really knows who is safe and who is not, as people are desperately trying to get out of a compromised area.”
Volyanyuk is committed to helping, but what stands out for her is the commitment of Ukrainians defending their country.
“It’s humbling to see such bravery and commitment to the country,” she said. “Literally, parents are giving their children to orphanages or boarding schools to protect their children while they go off to fight.”
The commitment to the greater cause runs deep, reminiscent of a time when an American president urged Americans to ask themselves not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country.
“Just imagine dropping everything right now and trusting your government to take care of your most precious asset – your children – and go risk your life,” Volyanyuk said. “It’s not just the men. They are also women who join their husbands at the front.