Day One Friday March 4th; 2022 and God’s leadings
The day started well. I slept quite well. Usually not the case when I’ve gone to Ukraine.
Somewhere over 40 times since April of 1996.
Catherine made her usual great coffee and breakfast. Instead of being at least mildly perturbed
at my imminent departure, she held my hand and prayed for me and for Ukraine and for our family.
It was gentle, sincere, and sweet. It was day 9 of war criminal Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine.
Back in April of 1996, I had joined another doctor, Tom Duncan his wife Marilyn who is a Nurse and a dear big Texan Missions leader, Sam Satterfield, to go on my first mission trip as a doctor. And as a new believer. To Ukraine.
I had no idea what the Lord had in mind. If you wonder how such an event could change your life, try this for the second day in Ukraine. Staying in Vinnitsa. About 5 hours drive from the capitol of Kyiv, where we had landed. Vinnitsa because that is where Mikhail and Anna Mashnitskiy and their four kids had moved from to Franklin, Tennessee shortly after the Soviet Union fell apart in 1991. Their family had joined The People’s Church. Catherine and I had undergone a spiritual awakening and joined the Church in November of 1995. Baptized together at Church by dear friend and Pastor Rick White.
So off to Ukraine. A family, Jon and Luanne Mohr had just moved there. Jon a Christian songwriter. They had five kids.
So, back to the second day. We had to turn in our Passports to get them “registered”. One of my first encounters with a slow to dissolve “Soviet Hangover” custom. Then a mandatory meeting with Vinnitsa’s Director of Ministry. Very officious guy. Named Yvgeny Ferubko. He warned us to be careful. Some Americans had been too evangelical of late.
As Yvgeny walked us to the Hospital as a group with our translator, he inquired of the translator as to whether I took care of heart patients. Slavik, my translator, advised him yes.
The next day Slavik and I met with Yvgeny. I examined him and suggested some new medications. Aspirin, nitrates and metoprolol. He’d been having a lot of angina. It helped him a lot.
There were no heart caths or stents or bypasses available. It was symptomatic treatment.
Yvgeny and I, over the next 8 years, became close. I met with his wife, an Endocrinologist, and his son.
Along with his cardiologist, we worked out his medical plan. And I met other cardiologists. Collaboration began. What a joy.
That evening, we got back to the hotel area after dark. Awaiting us was an older man and his son, grandson and daughter in law. He asked Slavik if we were the American doctors. He introduced us to his son, Benjamin Rabits. Benjamin had lost his left lower leg and his left arm above the elbow in a horrible car wreck. The request in desperation was could we help him get prostheses? His leg prosthesis resulted in endless pressure wounds. Dr. Tom Duncan and I took photos and measurements of his good right limbs.
Upon returning to Nashville, I requested to attend the Vanderbilt Prosthesis Clinic. Attending the presentation of Benjamin’s plight was Ed Dillard’s son. They ran a wonderful prosthesis company in Nashville.
Ed Dillard, well into his 70’s, accompanied me the next two trips in 1996. He brought along Benjamin’s beautiful new prostheses, spent time at the Vinnitsa prosthesis factory. At the conclusion of his two visits he literally transformed Ukrainian prosthesis manufacturing.
So, as I write this on the flight from Amsterdam to Bucharest, en route to western Ukraine to help a hospital I’ve often visited to now deal with war victims, the pattern repeats itself.
Unexpected and poignant opportunities to help and to collaborate. Over 40 trips. Each more amazing than the last. Lectures on HIV at the beginning of its presence in Ukraine, in 1996. Over 20 containers of medical equipment and supplies thanks to Project CURE of Nashville. Numerous teams of specialists.
Including Trauma Surgeon Dr. Tim Nunez from Vanderbilt. Lectures on Stop The Bleed by my daughter, (Vanderbilt Trauma Service NP) Heather Hart. All prescient in retrospect.
But this time it is different. The country is being ravaged by the unprovoked Russian invasion. I suppose I should feel some fear. I feel none. I know this trip must occur. I sense it deep in my heart.
Hopefully to help in meaningful ways. But mostly to just love on friends and this precious country….Ukraine ❤️‼️🇺🇦. To show them just by my presence that helping them and loving them
Is a lifelong commitment in my life since I was 43 years old. Now I am pulling up on 70. But on this trip I feel energized.
This is a pivotal time for not only Ukraine. It is an epic moment in world history. Evil and good are dramatically juxtaposed.
The trips until 2004 were a mixture of orphanage support, Hospital consultations, and attending amazing churches. All of that continues. But in 2004, the American College of Emergency Physicians (“ACEP”) launched their International Ambassador Program. It has been my privilege to serve in this role to Ukraine. A beautiful spiritual and secular mix. Though really, that categorization and separation is often, as it should be, nonexistent.
Day Two March 5th Amsterdam to Bucharest
As I get younger 😬, this overnight across the pond doesn’t get any easier. But all connections went well and bags made it to Bucharest with me. An overnight stay at the Hilton Airport Garden Inn provided essential rest and recovery. In the gate waiting areas awaiting flights in Atlanta and in Amsterdam the hat I wear (at least ten years old) says “Ukraine Kyiv”. It sparks comments and often conversations. Most people at a minimum saying “I love your hat”. It is gratifying, the worldwide support for Ukraine.
Never in my life, since the Cuban Missile Crisis, has there been such tension. Except for Vietnam.
A couple on the plane from Amsterdam from Salt Lake City were like my kids age. We had a nice talk.
At the hotel here in Bucharest and at the airport there are many children with their Moms. FaceTime to Dad back in Ukraine. And crying. Mom and the kids.
Also many relief workers. Like Samaritans Purse. I am being reaffirmed as to this trip.
Last night I told my 93 year old Dad what I was up to. I’d been hesitating as I didn’t want him to be alarmed and worried. But we’ve been confidantes since my childhood. Much more than normal for a Dad and son. So we FaceTimed, and my two brothers in Ohio also now aware. Truth is the best policy. Would that Russians knew that!!!
Day Three March 6th
Archana and the kids have evacuated to northern Romania. See URL RaisingHopeUkraine.com to learn about their ministry and to understand how to help donate to the purchase of humanitarian aid and to support poor evacuees. Plus to see why I love them so.
I meet a missionary family familiar to friends of theirs later today, after flying into Iasi in northern Romania. At some point, likely in two days, I’ll have to start being cryptic about my whereabouts. Today I am staying in Iasi with Nathan and Roxana Burke and their 10 year old son Samuel who is rapidly becoming my sidekick. As I write this we are sorting through humanitarian items for Ukraine.
Already I feel many prayers.
On the surface, this trip might seem reckless. Rest assured, it is not. This is an epic moment in time.
How could I not be trying to do everything possible for my second home since 1996 and as ACEP Ambassador to Ukraine?
Day Four March 7th
Staying yesterday upon arrival at the airport in Iasi (pronounced “Yosh”) with the Burkes is so much a treat. Learning of their ministry to eliminate orphans in Romania. To help train parents for adoption and dealing with trauma in adopted children. Their testimonial. Nathan from York, PA. Roxana from Romania. Their son Samuel born in York, PA.
If you want to read more about the Burkes, please go to: https://comission.org/our-team/burke
Their work in Romania is precious. And now they are helping with humanitarian aid to Ukraine.
Soon we meet with Ruslan. And then Ruslan and I leave. Loaded with humanitarian goods.
Ruslan arrived at around 6 pm. After a time of introductions and sharing and supper and praying, we went into a deep sleep. Ruslan had driven over six hours through the mountains to get to us in Iasi.
Day Five March 8th
The ministry of which Nathan Burke is a leader started out as World Without Orphans, inspired by Ukraine Without Orphans. God has a way of bringing things back home. In April of 1996, our church mission trip focus was on orphanage relief and medical consultation. In the Soviet system, children with virtually any disabilities or parents ill equipped to care for them were routinely “thrown” into orphanages. Well less than half were true orphans.
Nathan hosting this morning a world wide virtual meeting of those in their organization helping orphans get out of orphanages, and fighting human trafficking. They started their meeting in prayer for Ukraine.
Today, Ruslan and Nathan and Roxana are inventorying and are packing the van full to begin our trip to western Ukraine through Romania.
We both feel peace. We are taking in medical supplies, two way radios, binoculars and flashlights and many other donated items.
Day Six March 9th
Here in Western Ukraine near a border we got in late at night. Brief sleep and then back to visit the Refugee Center supported by Raising Hope Ukraine. Up to a hundred sleeping here and having meals and trying to find some form of temporary work during the day. Mostly people from Kyiv area and the east of Ukraine.
On occasion, there is an Air Raid siren, but it is for the entire Oblast. Not for where I am.
We are going to sort out our packed van of supplies today for distribution later today and tomorrow.
Tomorrow we meet with the Mayor to facilitate future humanitarian aid being effectively delivered and distributed going forward. Then to the Hospital for collaboration.
Dr. Tim Nunez, now the Chair of Trauma Residency at Brooke Army Hospital was here twice to collaborate. At the time, he was at Vanderbilt.
His promotion of a Massive Transfusion Protocol for hemorrhagic shock and my daughter Heather’s lecture in Cherkasy almost four years ago have recently been made a part of Ukraine’s Trauma Protocols. Adopted last week. Sadly, very timely for bullet, explosion and shrapnel injuries.
Day Seven March 10th
Today it was a day of sorting supplies and then meeting doctors and staff at Mohildiv Podilsky Hospital.
It encourages them that I am visiting. We are hoping to work with Project CURE back in Nashville to put together a vital container. In the past, from around 1998 to 2008, we sent roughly 20 medical equipment and supply containers to Vinnitsa.
We are now back to the Refugee Center. A family just arrived from Chernihiv, after 12 days in the basement and seeing countless corpses on the road. Ruslan is getting them diesel fuel for their van. I brought some funds that couldn’t be better used. They just left their wives and kids to go into Moldova as they get ready to return to fight the Russians.
Their story is so typical from Kyiv, Kharkiv, Mariopol, Sumy and other cities to the east.
We (meaning Ukraine and all democracies) must step up and defeat this evil. It is NEVER best to placate and accede to such evil.
Day Eight March 11th
Today began with a meeting with the Mayor’s office in Mohildiv Podilsky.
We are working with them and the Regional Hospital and Customs to help expedite
a humanitarian aid portal.
Then a time at the local Refugee Center. From there, picked up by an old friend and
two new ones…Koen Carlier of Christians for Israel, and Charlotte, who is Danish and serves in Moldova helping stop human trafficking, and Koen’s fellow Belgian Nicholas, who is Koen’s mentor and longtime friend.
We drove through some military checkpoints to Vinnitsa, my Ukraine “hometown” and am now here for a few days to support the local Nazarene church and to help where I am needed with humanitarian supplies. The church is also a Refugee Center.
Day Nine March 12th
Today it was errand day after a video interview of Pastor Roman and his wife Oksana.
Then to the Pharmacy to get some warfarin for a heart patient (Lyudmila Sinyavskaya) who had her mitral valve replaced in 1997 in Nashville at Centennial Hospital as a humanitarian effort.
Then off to Dr. Sergei’s. His son Andrej is a neurosurgeon in Kyiv. However, he enlisted in the Army and is helping to protect Kyiv.
I am praying for Ukraine and for a Western coalition to bring pilots and planes here to seal off Ukraine airspace. No Lone Ranger. A coalition of the free.
Tomorrow we have a church service in Vinnitsa.
Day Ten March 13th
Today was a beautiful service here at Vinnitsa Church of Jesus the Nazarene. The music has always pierced my heart, and the voices.
It was a joy to say a few words of love and encouragement. Joining us were Lyudmila Sinyavskaya (mitral valve replaced in Nashville’s Centennial Hospital in 1997) and her husband and grandson. Plus Olga Matichuk (her husband Grigory was my cardiology consult patient) and her grandaughter Anya, from Lityen. Sergei and Olga Bolyukh as well. Dr. Irina was my steadfast translator.
After service we saw seven patients with various needs and blood pressure issues from the stress and temporary lack of medical care.
Also today starting to link up Project CURE and other humanitarian efforts such as by Raising Hope Ukraine. Please look at:
ProjectCURE.org and RaisingHopeUkraine.com
Now I am catching up with emails and some writing.
I can only send prose now, as it seems photos are too big as a file.
I will be in Vinnitsa until Tuesday morning. Then back to Mohildiv Podilsky and Wednesday back to Iasi Romania. Friday I fly all the way home.
This trip has been one of the most poignant moments in my life. It is such a joy to see their joy and surprise at my being here and serving them in all ways possible. Another reminder of the difference between success and significance.
Day Eleven March 14th
The day had little agenda other than spending time here at the church encouraging people and then time with Dr. Sergei and his family.
However, I then learned from a humanitarian group that tomorrow there was now to be a gathering here in Vinnitsa to evaluate the need to evacuate stable injured military patients west from Vinnitsa to make room for more. Even if I cannot stay, my many colleagues here in Vinnitsa will help coordinate this effort. Dr. Irina and Dr. Lyena Bolyukh, Dr. Sergei’s daughter. So I am staying here in Vinnitsa another day. I am staying in Pastor Roman’s office. He may fear how to retake his office!? He is wonderful as is his church. I greatly look forward to getting back to my church, Southpointe Community Church in Nolensville and to meet with Pastor Matt Ballard to share what has happened and what opportunities will exist and exist already to help here.
Two things to keep in mind:
- America has never been closer to Ukraine.
- Ukraine has never been closer to God.
Day Twelve March 15th
Today I have stayed in Vinnitsa to meet with Head Doctors at their Emergency Dispatch Center and at Vinnitsa City Emergency Hospital. Amazing progress since my last visit here pre CoVID in May 2019.
Western style ER with CT and ultrasound. A long time coming. The post Soviet Hangover had been disappearing. Now Putin’s invasion and massacre. But Ukrainians are plenty tough.
The rectal orifice Putin will not ultimately triumph.
Today it was a joy to meet with Dr. John Quinn of Chicago; now living in Prague with his wife and children. He works in London and with the sponsorship of Christopher Catronboni of New Orleans.
Also with Tim Mak of NPR and security consultant Cory Igo of Lewisburg West Virginia.
It has been a tremendous day of new friends and collaboration to come.
If we but have good colleagues, good clinical acumen, good logistic and financial support, and maintain a servant heart, and remain in prayer to have God’s guide our efforts, there is no limit to what a blessing we can be to our wonderful colleagues here in Ukraine.
Day Thirteen March 16th
This morning, it was a final breakfast at Vinnitsa Church of Jesus the Nazarene with Pastor Roman and his wife Oxsana and the many loyal members of their church. Accommodating many in need of a place to stay as they flee eastern Ukrainian cities.
We visited many hospitals and the EM dispatch center. Many old friends that I’ve not seen since 2019 or earlier. Conversations with the local and regional Military Hospitals which I cannot go into right now, but have visited many times.
Dr. Douglas Jackson, President and CEO of Project CURE are coordinating with my Needs Assessments of these sites to begin assembling air containers to Ukraine.
Please look at: ProjectCURE.org
Wonderful organization with 7 warehouses around America to send medical supplies and equipment to, and to help sponsor shipping costs to Ukraine.
Now I am preparing to go across Moldova to Romania. Overnight as was the case intermittently while in Vinnitsa, there were air raid sirens. Two bombs hit Vinnitsa. But fortunately they exploded before impact on a forest near the TV station. We are all fortunate thus far in Vinnitsa.
Tomorrow evening flying to Bucharest. Then all the way home on the 18th after a night’s rest at an Airport Hotel.
My heart will remain here in Ukraine more than ever. I want to be used by the Lord to pray for and to help Ukraine in all ways possible. I hope to convey this experience to many people in America as is possible.
Day Fourteen March 17th
After yesterday’s travel from Mohildiv Poldiskiy through northern Moldova to the Sculeni border into Iasi Romania, it was a joy to travel with two 85 year olds exiting Vinnitsa to Romania, just to show them our love. In typical humility, they were in the rear of the van. A group who run an assisted living facility were offering them free accommodations in Iasi. One suitcase and her purse. I wanted to cry. But it was inspirational to witness their courage. I speak just enough Russian to allow some communication. Plus when others were available they could translate. Among those accompanying us were Katya and her husband and their kids. Having left Irson, where their suburb of Kyiv was being destroyed. Another family escape microcosm of what is happening in Ukraine.
Fleeing the city of their lives. I was witness to a massive exodus of women, children and women and the elderly people during this ten days in Ukraine. Over 3 million of 40 million have now left.
By the way, many Ukrainians speak Russian. Especially older people and those in the center to eastern Ukraine. I found it interesting to witness those speaking Russian outside of Ukraine were making a point of saying that they were not Russian. Nicely done, Putin. You’ve killed with indiscriminate bombing and you’ve ruined Russian lives and reputations for one or two generations at least.
The men 18-60 with less than three children stay to fight. Putin will never break their will. He is destroying Russia, however. The threat of a beautiful country of much common descent that has had 30 years of freedom was no real threat to Russia. Except for the maniacal ego of a hugely evil dictator.
Ultimately, provided that the West and all free nations step up adequately, Ukraine will triumph and rebuild. Side note: Finland and Norway should immediately join NATO. Ukraine later. No rush as long as we provide adequate help for them to defeat the totally unprovoked invasion by Russia.
After a beautiful day in Iasi, I am now on the plane flying to Bucharest.
Bittersweet. I miss Catherine and all of my family. But my broken heart is still in Ukraine.
May I be used in all ways possible to love and help this courageous and beautiful people and nation of Ukraine. Plus a new love for Romania.
We speak during wartime of “collateral damage”. This trip has caused to occur for me countless
“collateral blessings”. May I be used. All out. In my longstanding love for my second home of Ukraine.
Now with new dimensions. Sad and tragic circumstances. To help and to love.
As Dr. Jim Jackson (founder of Project CURE) said to me on our trip together to Ukraine in August of 1996, may I keep learning and help others to learn the difference between success and significance.
It is a calling for us living in freedom to encourage, assist and to love Ukraine in it’s triumph over evil.
Brian R. McMurray MD FACEP FACP AAHIVS
ACEP Ambassador to Ukraine
(all opinions expressed in this Journal of this trip are mine, not of ACEP)