Photo: David Thanh
On some occasions, when Ukrainians realize that a volunteer medical team led by a Squamish resident isn’t there for any reason other than to help, it brings them to tears.
“A lot of them will come up to us and say, ‘You’re Canadian. So why are you here? Do you have family ties with Ukraine? “said David Thanh, Echo Team Leader of Canadian Medical Assistance Teams, or CMAT.
“And some people in our group have family ties to Ukraine, but most of them don’t. And when we tell them, “No, we don’t have any family ties here. We just came because we felt we needed help,” some of them are moved to tears.”
Thanh, a resident of Paradise Valley since 2011, said many people in Ukraine felt the world had turned its back on them, leaving them alone to face the Russian invasion.
However, finding out that other people around the world care can be an overwhelming feeling for some Ukrainians.
“We see the raw emotion and these people saying, ‘Wow, you came from halfway around the world to volunteer your time to pay for your own expenses and come here to help people you don’t even have no ties, “and just so amazed and so grateful,” Thanh said. “That’s probably the most striking thing at home.”
Thanh, who is a member of Squamish Search and Rescue, is responsible for leading his team of around 10 medical professionals, including doctors, nurses and paramedics.
Currently, he works as a fire warden for the BC Wildfire Service in Squamish, conducting patrols and working on logistics for large fires. Previously, he was one of two coroners with the BC Coroners Service for Sea to Sky.
Since arriving on April 17, a typical day for Thanh involves conducting security and risk assessments and determining where and how the team will deploy.
Generally, the team spends its nights in Poland and every morning crosses the border into western Ukraine every day.
Many of the people the group tends to hang out with are those who have left the more dangerous parts of Ukraine, but haven’t quite decided to leave the country. They remain near the Polish border in case evacuation is necessary, but hope to return home when the war is over.
Therefore, Thanh’s team took on the role of substitute family physicians and pharmacists for those who no longer have access to these services.
In areas where they operate, facilities such as university dormitories have been converted to house displaced people.
“These are people who no longer have access to health services,” Thanh said. “They no longer have access to family doctors; they may or may not have prescriptions with them. So… we take the place of their family doctor, we provide pharmaceutical services, so we have a mobile pharmacy with us. »
By helping these people, they have come to make connections.
Thanh spoke of two men who had driven 24 hours straight from Kharkiv and were seeking medical attention for back pain.
“They were telling their exit story, and then he ended with, ‘You know, the fishing is so good here. And, and when you come back to Ukraine, when the war is over, look at me, and we’ll take you fishing .’ Thanh said.
A more dramatic example involved a person who had escaped from an area heavily shelled by Russian forces.
“He was in the wrong place at the wrong time, [but while] he was carrying a backpack with water bottles, he was hit by 20 shrapnel,” Thnah said. “Most of them went into his legs and back. The only shrapnel that would have killed him hit the water bottle that was in his backpack and shattered the water bottle. If it hadn’t been for those water bottles, he would definitely be dead.”
The CMAT team arranged a transfer to bring the patient to Austria, where a specialist could provide an assessment and possibly remove the shrapnel.
There are also many cases of post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, Thanh added.